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Who Is Listening?

An Inquiry into the Shurangama Meditative Practice

Dedicated to Teachers.
In a world that so enjoys divisions and factions, may the pursuit of integration and union
be cause for joy!

Paradoxes always intrigue me. When I first heard the phrase, “sound of silence”, from
Ajahn Sumedho in the early 1990’s, I was simply interested in a phrase that seemed like
an oxymoron to me. Later, I learned that this oxymoron was merely a conditioning of
mine, assuming that silence was the absence of sound. In fact, I learned, as you can also
discover, that if you simply take a few minutes now to open up to and listen, a high
pitched sound of silence is always present.

Initially, it is easier to hear this sound early in the morning or late at night in a quiet
place. Children usually hear this high pitched “sound” relatively quickly.

Over time, I delighted in the discovery of this “sound of silence” and often found comfort
in it being there all the time. Yet after several years of this practice, it became dry. I
didn’t know what else to do with the “sound” that I was hearing so often and sometimes
so loudly.

Always interested in integrating and refining my spiritual practices, I knew it was similar
to, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” which I had practiced for several years. I couldn’t
articulate that intuition and experience until I came across the various commentaries on
the Shurangama Sutra and the section on the perfect penetration of the ear organ
according to Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva: “The Buddha has asked us how we broke
through to enlightenment. By the means I have described, I entered through the door of
the ear-faculty into a full and bright samādhi, and my mind’s dependence was
transformed into self-mastery. Thus by redirecting my hearing inward, I entered samādhi
and realized enlightenment. This, then, is the best method.”

My growing suspicion that the “sound of silence” was very much a part of the meditation
practice of the ear organ was confirmed when I heard visiting Theravadan nuns speak
about Ajahn Sumedho’s meditation practice:

The sisters revealed that besides meditating on the breath as a topic, they
learned from Ajahn Sumedho a practice not particularly Theravadan.
Luang Por Sumedho came to investigate the sound of silence after he
heard this high frequency “sound” while walking down the street one day.
To him, this was a message to investigate further. Coupled with having
read Elder Master Hsu Yun’s talks on “Who is mindful of the Buddha?”

he came to investigate this practice that is more of an expedient practice in
the typical Theravadan tradition.i

And as I did more research, I jumped with joy to discover this introduction by Ajahn

In this light it might be useful to take a look at some of the terms Ajahn
Sumedho uses frequently in this collection—particularly “the sound of
silence,” “intuitive awareness,” and “consciousness”—which have taken
on such distinctive meanings over the years.

The first of these, “the sound of silence,” is described in the talk with that
title. Since it is not a meditation method found in classical Theravada
handbooks, it might be helpful to provide a little background about how
Ajahn Sumedho came to develop it and to refer to some of the other
spiritual traditions that use it as part of a meditation practice.

It was in the winter retreat of January 1981, at Chithurst Monastery, that

Ajahn Sumedho first started to teach this method to the monastic
community. He said that he had begun to notice a high-pitched, ringing
tone when he left Thailand in 1977 and spent his first winter in England,
in the Hampstead Buddhist Vihara. He pointed out that, as Thailand was
such a noisy country, particularly amidst the crickets and cicadas in the
forest at night (when one does most formal meditation practice), he had
not noticed this inner sound before. But when he came to London, despite
being a large metropolis, he found that it became very quiet late at night,
especially when the air was muffled by the presence of a blanket of snow.

In the silence of those nights he began to perceive the ever-present inner

sound, seemingly beginningless and endless, and he soon found that he
was able to discern it throughout the day and in many circumstances,
whether quiet or busy. He also realized that he had indeed noticed it once
before in his life, when he had been on shore leave from the U.S. Navy in
the late ‘50s and, during a walk in the hills, his mind had opened into a
state of extreme clarity. He remembers that as a wonderfully pure and
peaceful state, and he recalled that the sound had been very loud then. So
those positive associations encouraged him to experiment and see if it
might be a useful meditation object. It also seemed to be an ideal symbol,
in the conditioned world of the senses, of those qualities of mind that
transcend the sense realm: not subject to personal will, ever present but
only noticed if attended to; apparently beginningless and endless, formless
to some degree, and spatially unlocated.

When he first taught this method to the Sangha at Chithurst that winter, he
referred to it as “the sound of silence” and the name stuck. Later, as he
began to teach the method on retreats for the lay community, he began to

hear about its use from people experienced in Hindu and Sikh meditation
practices. In these traditions, he found out, this concentration on the inner
sound was known as nada yoga, or “the yoga of inner light and sound.” It
also turned out that books had been written on the subject, commentaries
in English as well as ancient scriptural treatises, notably The Way of Inner
Vigilance by Salim Miachael (published by Signet). In 1991, when Ajahn
Sumedho taught the sound of silence as a method on a retreat at a Chinese
monastery in the United States, one of the participants was moved to
comment, “I think you have stumbled on the Shurangama Samadhi. There
is a meditation on hearing that is described in that sutra, and the practice
you have been teaching us seems to match it perfectly.”ii

In his own words, Ajahn Sumedho explains:

This intuitive approach does not exclude methodical meditations. It’s not
that I’m against the methods of meditation in our tradition of Theravada
Buddhism—not at all.iii

I always use the practice of listening to the sound of silence—that subtle,

continuous, inner ringing tone in the background of experience—because
every time I open to the mind, that’s what I hear. Its presence contains and
embraces the body, the emotional quality, and the thinking mind all at
once. It’s not like A-B-C or anything in tandem or sequence, but in just the
way it is, as a whole, it includes; it doesn’t pick and choose, as in “I want
this but I don’t want that.” Just noticing, trusting, and valuing this ability
that each one of us has. It’s something to really treasure and cultivate.iv

Ajahn Sumedho’s personal journey practicing the sound of silence and his teachings on
the sound of silence are the primary impetuses for this elaboration on the perfect
penetration of the ear organ based on the Shurangama Sutra and key commentaries.

In the following section, I will explain how Ajahn Sumedho has led many to this practice
of listening to our inherent nature and how his teaching can be used as a stepping stone in
providing a more comprehensive look at Avalokitesvara’s practice of reversing the
direction of hearing. At the same time, I will specifically present the language and stages
of practice aiding those who have not yet encountered these methods in their efforts reach
ever more profound levels of cultivation.

I begin with analyzing the way we “listen”, to what we listen, and with what we listen, in
order to show that the “sound of silence” is, at its most rudimentary level, the sensory
object of stillness. From that point forward, there are stages that may have been
experienced by others but not articulated the way the Buddha did in the Shurangama
Sutra. I will describe how this incredibly compact Buddhist scripture, so literarily
beautiful in Chinese, explains how to reach great Samadhi through meditation and the
Shurangama Mantra.

For both the experienced and inexperienced, this is the most crucial section of this paper,
for it explains the practice of using the ear faculty lauded by Bodhisattvas and
Shakyamuni Buddha, a practice they consider to be a most suitable form of cultivation
for us during this time and age.

An Inquiry
1. That to Which We Listen

In a reply to a question about how to “listen,” Great Master Jyauguang, in the most
notable commentary to the Shurangama Sutra, succinctly lays out the different types of
“sounds”, or the sensory objects called “dusts” (塵).

These sensory objects are the two categories of movement and stillness.
Movement means sound and stillness means silence. Here, we first let
cease the object of movement, which consists of two types. One, warped
sounds that contain intended meaning, such as language, songs and the
like. Two, direct sounds that are devoid of intended meaning, such as
wind, water, birds, beasts, bells, drums, and other sounds.

Warped sounds are most powerful sounds, for they tug at the mind and
make it flow about and turn.

We must first, and forever, sever the connection to warped sounds. There
are two types of warped sounds: First, warped sounds about the mundane.
Second, warped sounds about principles. Furthermore, there are two types
of warped sounds about the mundane — the powerless and the powerful.
The powerless ones refer to critiques of past or present literature and
phenomena that have to do with other people and other times. Having
nothing to do with us, [such sounds] may breed scattered thoughts only,
but have no real power to increase our afflictions; hence [such sounds] are
“powerless.” “Powerful” sounds refer to words about various desirable
states for which we are greedy, words about various kinds of injustices
that make us angry, words that build our reputation or slander us behind
our back, words of compliment or teases to our face— any words that
cause benefit or harm to ourselves so that we suddenly become recklessly
joyous or hateful, forgetting and losing our proper mindfulness-- these are
all secular sounds that are warped.

Warped sounds about principles have to do with words describing internal,

external, deviant or proper principles. Even talks on Buddhist practices,
which are so mystical and wondrous, may lead people to develop certain
understanding based on words. Such words trigger internal discussion and
thought processes, but people may not realize what they are doing.
Grasping such conditions [even if related to Buddhist practice,] is also
about pursuing and floating along with sound, which is a most severe
obstruction to our fundamental hearing. This is why this Buddhist School

[of Chan] treats even the verbal teachings of Buddhas and patriarchs as
From this teaching we can generally agree to the different types of sound Great Master
Jyauguang describes. He already provides the how-to of listening by saying that any train
of thought following some sound we hear, especially some meaning we render from
sounds is not about listening to our inherent nature. He points out that methods of
responding to sound are extremely important in this practice of “listening”.

What is important here in terms of the sensory objects of sound, is that sounds include the
broad categories of sounds of movement and sounds of stillness. Most of us would agree
with the descriptions of various sounds of movement we hear; but, what does the auditory
object of stillness mean? Great Master Jyuaguang’s Q&A’s on the Shurangama Sutra
explains “stillness.”
Q: To not grasp at warped sounds and quit making distinctions among
them are relatively easy to verify; to not grasp direct sounds and quit
seizing and attaching to them are difficult to test. Furthermore, even if we
can have our minds not seize and not attach to these sounds, they are like
the various randomly occurring sounds that disturb and bother hearing, so
how do we test to see that we do not follow the sounds and be turned?

A: For those who reverse the direction of the hearing most earnestly in
focus, the hearing nature is constantly clear like the moon of clear autumn.
There is not a moment that is blurry or dark. Since there is not outpouring
toward even one sound, all sounds are not missed. There are two tests to
our seizing or attaching to sounds in the slightest: First, the nature of
hearing will be the first to become blurry and unclear all of a sudden;
second, outpouring toward only one sound leave all other sounds missed.
Let me further clarify with an analogy. For instance, someone gets dizzy at
the sight of water and cannot go over a body of water on his own; instead
he requires someone to take him by the hand. The other person tells him to
look up at the sky and not look at water for a moment. Were he to forget
the instructions and look at water for a moment, he would immediately
faint. This is the same. Reversing the direction of hearing toward our
inherent nature is just like staring at the sky. Not searching out for sound
any more is like not looking at water, there is no problem with flowing
about and turning, just as there is no problem with drowning. Therefore
we know that sounds cannot be eliminated, but we should reverse the
direction of the hearing and focus earnestly. Just as water cannot be
eliminated, we should look up at the sky and focus intently.
Great Master Jyauguang’s response to the above question reveals to us that sounds cannot
be eliminated. No matter where you are or how quiet it is, there are sounds that cannot be
eliminated. The “sound of silence” can therefore be acknowledged as an impossible-to-
eliminate sound, the sensory object of quietude.

Below, Great Master Jyauguang implicitly acknowledges certain qualities of the sensory
object of silence, the “sound of silence,” and how these qualities are actually similar to
certain qualities of the nature of hearing. Of course, the real purpose of this question and
answer is the instruction on how we can detect the difference between the sensory object
of stillness and the nature of hearing.
Q: The ceasing of movement is the ceasing of sound. The objects of sound
and the nature of hearing are contrary, like black and white; it’s easy to
tell the difference between them and easy for them to cease. As for the
sensory object of silence, it is similar to the nature of hearing. The nature
of hearing is silent and the object of silence is silent too. Both are
boundless and free of discrimination, and therefore are as difficult to tell
apart as wind and space, as difficult to separate as mixtures of water and
milk. Since they are so difficult to dissect, I am afraid it is difficult for
them to cease. How can we tell?

A: We only need to be concerned about how we have not yet perceived the
nature of hearing clearly. If we can clearly see the nature of hearing, how
can [the objects of sound and the nature of hearing] be mixed up? I believe
the nature of hearing is the mind and the object of silence is an [external]
state. The mind knows efficaciously without being obscured; the states are
dull and without knowing. The states are states while the mind is the mind.
It is just like this: you are you and I am me. How is it difficult to separate
them? For instance, mundane and ordinary beings enter a mountain with
no one around and can completely understand the quietude in the
mountain. Actually they do not detect their nature of hearing a bit. When
they arrive at a busy city, the silence is completely lost. The earlier states
of silence are just silence in the mountains. How can there be silence after
they leave the mountains? People in the world grasp at states of silence,
but all of that is lost when the state departs. This is still a very coarse
external state.

Furthermore, practitioners do not see their own minds yet. They study to
control their thoughts and enter Samadhi, extending and deepening the
Samadhi. Based entirely on the power of Samadhi, their awareness seems
boundless. This boundless awareness that practitioners feel is still a state
of silence, which will be entirely lost when the power of Samadhi ends.
This is an inner state finer than the earlier state [of a coarse external
silence.] If one does not enlighten to the mind and does not see the nature
of hearing, one truly does not recognize that both of these are objects of
silence rather than a still mind. If one can awaken to the mind,
understanding and seeing the nature of hearing, one will enlighten to how
this nature is fundamentally and ultimately quiet, boundlessly still. It is
neither achieved by gathering in thoughts nor relying on outer states.
Those who do not know to reverse the direction of their hearing are
completely unaware [of the nature of hearing.] For those who can
singularly reverse the hearing, the nature of silence exists eternally.

Stillness does not change, whether in the mountains or cities; entering or
exiting Samadhi; stillness exists forever. Even before understanding and
reversing the hearing, the nature of hearing is inherently and constantly
silent since beginningless time, not to mention after having understood
and seen the hearing reversed. What gain or loss is there to speak of? If so,
the nature of hearing has nothing to do with the sensory object of silence.
It is easiest for the earnest to reverse the direction of the hearing. How is
that difficult? There probably are no other tricks after movement of sound
ceases; one should apply the skill of reversing the hearing more
profoundly and earnestly in turn. The nature of hearing increases its
brightness while the two sensory objects of movement and stillness are
both stripped away completely. At this point, the ceasing of sensory
objects reaches an extreme. According to the Perfect School, it is the first
stage of Faith; for the Two Vehicles, it is equivalent to the First

It is further elaborated in the third roll of the Shurangama Sutra that the moving sounds
are not associated with particular places and these sounds do not come and go either.

Ananda, listen again to the drum being beaten in the Jeta Grove when the
food is ready. The assembly gathers as the bell is struck. The sounds of the
bell and the drum follow one another in succession. What do you think?
Do these things come into existence because the sound comes to the
region of the ear, or because the ear goes to the place of the sound? Again,
Ananda, suppose that the sound comes to the region of the ear, similarly,
when I go to beg for food in the city of Shravasti, I am no longer in the
Jeta Grove. If the sound definitely goes to the region of Ananda’s ear, then
neither Maudgalyayana nor Kashyapa would hear it, and even less the
twelve hundred and fifty shramanas who, upon hearing the sound of the
bell, come to the dining hall at the same time. Again, suppose that the ear
goes to the region of the sound. Similarly, when I return to the Jeta Grove,
I am no longer in the city of Shravasti. When you hear the sound of the
drum, your ear will already have gone to the place where the drum is
being beaten. Thus, when the bell peals, you will not hear the sound-- even
less that of the elephants, horses, cows, sheep, and all the other various
sounds around you. If there is no coming or going there will be no hearing,
either. Therefore, know that neither hearing nor sound has a location, and
thus the two places of hearing and sound are empty and false. Their origin
is not in causes and conditions, nor do their natures arise spontaneously.vii

Sounds are in fact illusory, temporary transformations from our “wondrous, everlasting
understanding, the unmoving, all-pervading, wondrous Suchness of Reality.”

2. That With Which We Shall Not Use to Listen

Now that we have talked about how “sound” is a sensory object, an illusion derived from
the subject’s Buddha nature, we will now examine what should and should not be done,
to hear the nature of hearing instead of the sensory objects of sound.

Unlike the English word “hearing,” in Chinese, the character 聞 can also mean
encountering, in addition to hearing. Therefore, the very first line and the sensible
Chinese commentaries usually begin by explaining the difference in the interpretation of
“hearing” 聞 in “reversing the hearing” 聞 思 修 from the first set of lines of the key
passage that explains this practice using the ear organ. Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara tells
us that it is through “hearing” that he entered Samadhi and reached perfect penetration.
The Buddha “instructed me to enter samādhi through a practice of hearing and

Now let’s address one of the key areas of confusion pointed out by the historical Buddha
and other eminent commentators on the Shurangama Sutra.
Great Master Jyauguang put it plainly:

We typically think of the 聞 in 聞思修 as “erudition”. It is the ability to

listen to or encounter the sutras and understand their meaning. It is the
substance of the ear consciousness, whereby superior understanding and
discrimination develop out of the consciousness in the ears. The wen (聞)
here, however, refers to the hearing nature in the ear faculty, the substance
of which is the non-discriminating noumenon of the Just-As-It-Is Wisdom.
Si (思) is non-attachment to both emptiness and existence. To constantly
concentrate on turning back toward our hearing, we strip off the sensory
objects of sound externally and avoid seeking intellectual ideas internally.
This is just the quiet practice of dhyana. Xiu ( 修 ) applies to infinite
practices and does not contradict dhyana contemplation.”ix
Great Master Yuanying explained that these Three Forms of Wisdom are atypical of our
usual conceptions.

Typically, “encountering or hearing” (聞) means encountering or hearing

some text and deriving some wise understanding using the ear
consciousness. This consciousness is the consciousness of supreme
understanding that develops based on the ear faculty. ”Contemplating” (思
修 ) is the independent consciousness of the mind, pondering and
cultivating lessons heard. None of these are apart from the consciousness
that comes into being and ceases to be. Consciousness is the impediment
to perfect penetration. The essence of this sutra is to abandon the
consciousness and use the sense faculty; therefore these three forms of
wisdom are atypical.x

The Buddha tried to teach us this lesson early in the Shurangama Sutra by pointing to
Ananda as a model of an erudite individual deficient in actual cultivation. The Buddha
rejected Ananda’s seven theorized locations of the mind based on the eye organ. The

arguments similarly apply to the ear organ. For example, the Buddha rejected Ananda’s
argument that we see with eyes. We do not see with our eyes. If we did, we could gouge
out our eyeballs and see ourselves. Similarly, people with amputated ears can still hear.
The Shurangama Sutra names Upananda, for example, as someone who can hear but has
no ears. “Ananda, you know, do you not, that here in this assembly, Aniruddha is blind
and yet can see; that the dragon Upananda is deaf and yet can hear….” xi The nerves to the
brains allow us to hear. But can people with no nerves hear? Deaf individuals still hear,
though they don’t hear “sounds” such as spoken words, music, clapping of hands etc.
Even 100% deaf individuals hear a “sound” that is no sound. The Shurangama Sutra calls
these nerves the ear consciousness.

It is not with the ears made of flesh, nerves and ear drum that we wish to “listen” to our
inherent nature. After all, as explained in the fourth roll of the Shurangama Sutra:

Hearing occurs because the two reverberations of movement and stillness

and their like firmly adhere to quietude in what originally was wonderful
perfection. The essence of hearing reflects sound and resounds with it to
become the organ of the ear. The primal composition of the ear-organ is
the purely-defined four elements. Those portions we call the ears are
shaped like fresh-curled leaves. Of the four defiling objects that the sense
organs pursue, this one is loosened upon sound. xii

This means that there are sounds of movement and sounds of stillness. These phenomena
stimulate and attack one another so that the capability to listen, the “essence of listening”,
occurs in the wondrous and perfect inherent nature. When the essence of listening and the
sensory objects of sound in movement and stillness interact, the ability to embody sound
waves congeals into a biological function, which are the ears. The subtle components of
earth, water, fire, and wind, form ears shaped like curled lotus leaves. The essence of
listening rests with the ears as it grasps all auditory states so that it is constantly chasing
after objects of sound!xiii The ear faculty does not refer to the physical ears visible to us
but the ability to listen or the nerves of hearing, which is one of the five or six senses. It is
abbreviated and referred to as the ears.xiv

It is not with that which can detect something as a sound that we wish to “listen” to our
inherent nature. The way the ear consciousness works is that recognition occurs regarding
sounds heard, though no discrimination follows. This question is asked in the first roll of
the Shastra on Comprehensive Categories, “What is the ear consciousness? It is the
recognition of different sounds heard by the ears.” It is explained in the second roll of the
Shastra on the Mahayana Abhidharma’s Miscellaneous Collections that, “The nature of
the ear consciousness is the differentiation of sounds based on what the ears grasp.”xv In
the third roll of the Shurangama Sutra, the Buddha refutes a number of aspects of the ear
consciousness. To be more specific, the nature of hearing does not come from the

1. If “the nature of hearing” comes from the sensory object of soundless silence,
then when we hear sounds, the “nature of hearing” should cease along with the
sensory object of silence. How can we hear the reverberations of sounds?

2. If “the nature of hearing” comes from the moving sensory object of sound, then
shouldn’t “the nature of hearing” cease along with sounds of movement when
silence arrives? How come we hear the sound of silence?

3. If “the nature of hearing” comes from the ears while the ears do not store the two
states of movement and stillness, then how can we sense sound (movement) or
silence (stillness)? If “the nature of hearing” comes from the ear faculty, then
when the two types of sensory objects, movement and stillness, cease, wouldn’t
“the nature of hearing” be devoid of substance (given the absence of sensory
objects), therefore losing the capability to listen?

4. If “the nature of hearing” were born from emptiness, then emptiness must be
replete with the nature of hearing (becoming something conscious); hence no
longer emptiness. Besides, that would just be emptiness itself listening, what
would it have to do with our ears listening?

5. Therefore, ears are the ear organ that can sense sounds and silence in the
environment. However, they are all temporary and illusory phenomenon in time
and space; they are neither born out of cause and conditions nor basic functions of

We have concluded up to this point that wen ( 聞 ) refers to the nature of hearing that
neither comes into being nor ceases, which is the nature of the Thus Come One’s
Treasury.xvii Neither is it in the physical ears. The ears on our face are a physical form for
floating sensory objects, which do not connect to create any decisive meaning. Nor is the
nature of hearing in the ear consciousness. The ear consciousness discriminates in every
thought, therefore it is not the proper cause for Bodhi. Also, the nature of hearing is not
the mind consciousness. The mind consciousness is the root of birth and death, precisely
the hindrance to perfect penetration. xviii

Those familiar with the 25 sages’ perfection of penetration in the Shurangama Sutra
should note here that Ājñāta-kauṇḍinya became enlightened through the sensory objects
of sound while Universal Worthy Bodhisattva realized Bodhi through the ear
consciousness. So it is possible to realize enlightenment in various ways. As our teacher
Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, who always manages to be so broadminded, pointed out in
his response to this question:

Q: The Sutra says that listening is the foremost practice for enlightenment
because perfect penetration through the ear organ is the most effective
means to awakening. However, people value their eyes most among the
various sense faculties; next in line might be the ear organ, then other
organs. So from my perspective, the eye organ is most precious to us;

therefore the eye organ, rather than the ear organ, should be most effective
for our enlightenment.

A: Every sense organ is fundamentally number one. There is no second

place here. That which suits you is number one for you; that which does
not suit you is number two for you.xix

This paper does not theorize on the practice of the ear organ being the best for this time
and age for the above reasons. Although for those interested, you may wish to peruse the
Shurangama Sutra for Manjushuri Bodhisattva’s critique on other means of practice.

3. That With Which We Listen/Shall Use to Listen

Having acknowledged that it is possible to realize enlightenment through various means,

we return to Avalokitesvara’s practice of listening and the methods of reversing the
hearing. Here is what Great Master Yuanying says about “hearing”, ideally:

The wisdom from “hearing”. Here are the wonderful principles that come
from the nature of the ear faculty’s hearing. The wonderful wisdom of
rudimentary awakening (始覺)xx does not listen to the sensory objects of
sound, but listens to the nature of hearing that has the ability to listen. The
wisdom of “contemplation” (思慧) is to contemplate with proper wisdom
“Who is it that listens?” without being attached to the two extremes of
emptiness or existence-- only to singularly reverse the direction of the
hearing and listen to the inherent nature. The wisdom from cultivation (修
慧 ) is the cultivation of hearing that is like illusion and the hearing of
being permeated. Returning the essence to oneself in every thought,
taming [the ear faculty to return] to the perfect and true, revealing inherent
brilliance, untying the Six Knots and transcending the Three Types of
Emptiness, shattering the Five Skandhas, and transcending the Five
Turbiditiesxxi-- all depend on wisdom that does not discriminate and efforts
to reverse the direction of hearing.xxii

We now analyze in more detail the brief but precise instructions in the sixth roll of the
Shurangama Sutra, as follows:

That Buddha taught me to enter samadhi through a process of

listening. I began with a practice based on the nature of hearing. First
I redirected my hearing inward in order to enter the current of the
sages. Then external sounds disappeared. With its direction reversed
and with sounds stilled, both sounds and silence cease to arise. So it
was that, as I gradually progressed, what I heard and my awareness
of what I heard came to an end. Even when that state of mind in
which everything had come to an end disappeared, I did not rest. My
awareness and the objects of my awareness were emptied, and when
that process of emptying my awareness was wholly complete, then

even that emptying and what had been emptied vanished. Coming
into being and ceasing to be themselves ceased to be. Then the
ultimate stillness was revealed. (彼佛教我從聞思修,入三摩地。初

The Shurangama Sutra stresses that these fifty-two concise Chinese characters prescribe
a most suitable practice of listening during this time and age.

The first line: That Buddha taught me to enter samadhi through a process of
listening. I began with a practice based on the nature of hearing 彼 佛 教 我 從 聞 思
第 一 行 ﹕彼佛教我從聞思修,入三摩地。初於聞中。

Here Avalokitesvara explains his practice that led to enlightenment. Great Master
Jyauguang provides instructions for one to begin the practice right. His commentaries
describes that with which we listen/shall use to listen.

In listening (聞中) lies the nature that is seen, also the principles that we
are aiming for. Here, it is the gate through which we may enter and the
state to which we illumine. The first thing we need to clarify is to avoid
two types of errors. The first error is crude while the second is more
subtle. We must recognize these two types of errors. First of all, “the
nature of hearing” does not lie in the physical ears. This nature of hearing
is fundamentally the sea-like store consciousness. It is of one entity but is
replete with six types of uses. In the eyes, it is seeing; in the ears, it is
hearing etc. until, in the mind, it is knowing. We now refer to the second,
[the nature of hearing being in the ears], hence we call it listening.

Secondly, [the hearing nature] does not lie in the ear consciousness. Since
the nature of hearing clearly hears sound and silence without being
confused in the slightest and yet there is no discrimination. Just like the
nature of seeing, it is like a mirror free from analysis. It is apart from any
signs of thought. It is equivalent to space, constant and pervasive. With
thought, [the nature] becomes limited to one spot, coming into being and
ceasing to be in a kshana, rendering it neither pervasive nor constant. This
is the consciousness that conditions sound. To fall for this means that we
are still at the point of a shadow-like phenomenon, discriminating based
on conditioning objects refuted by the Thus Come One early on in the
Sutra. This would mean the entire section of the text on the Seven Places
and their refutations were completely useless. Therefore we know that in
this “hearing”, not a thought comes into being and yet the Dharma Realm
is perfectly illumined. It is the ground of still extinction for the One
Vehicle, the proper place of cultivation of a true aranya.

If this is not immediately clear to us through the sutra text, we can
experience it and get to know it by practicing meditation (quietly). Try to
get up and meditate at dawn, when the night air is fresh and clear. At the
start of the day when everything is just beginning to stir, without letting
one thought come into being, we will notice this hearing nature. This
hearing nature is vast, encompassing, lucidly illuminated, unobstructed by
any mountain or wall, and unclouded by obscurities or darkness. Any
sound, be they loud or slight, near or far, are thoroughly known without

One does not miss even breezes that move trees, footsteps that make stairs
creak. If a large bell were tolled several miles east of us, it would be
absolutely clear to us. At the same time, were a crowd of drums sounded
several miles west of us, they would be so crystal clear and not at all
missed. Similarly, cries in a valley to the south or laughter on the streets to
the north, sounds of carriage wheels and horse hooves would all
completely appear in the midst of perfect hearing, just as reflections
appear in a large perfect mirror so that not even a strand of hair can be
hidden from view.

As for the times when there is only stillness and silence, the nature of
hearing feels even more boundless. Listening elucidates the entity that can
hear. When we can listen without grasping the states of movement and
stillness heard, we begin, at that point, to know that the wonderfully
mysterious nature is inherently complete; it is not achieved (through
cultivation). It is only because our scattered mind and worrisome thoughts
based on external conditions obscure, alienate and betray us that we don’t
notice [the wondrous nature]. Furthermore, in terms of the internal, we
should know that there are no fixed, real body and mind, a concept to
which we have become attached. Externally, we should know that there
are no fixed and real material objects and worlds, a concept to which we
have become attached. All this is without a trace, other than a span of vast
and boundless void.

The myriad dharmas are evident and exist only because of the mind. The
wonders of their intersections and integrations are all within the mind. The
dharmas are neither of existence nor emptiness, and yet are emptiness and
existence. This extremely wonderful and unthinkable state is the
patriarchs’ Treasury to the Eye of the Proper Dharma, the wonderful mind
of nirvana. The teachings of patriarchs are not limited to one practice,
though often revealed through the mind organ and explained with the
word “knowing.” These are some differences between the teachings of
patriarchs and instructions in the Shurangama Sutra. Value this text, it
determines the illuminated state that we are aiming for. The next line of
the text is on the how-to of applying effort. .xxiii

4. The How’s of Listening

First I redirected my hearing inward in order to enter the current of the sages入 流

動 sounds
moveme 聞 the
nt 塵 nature of
audi- 覺 空 滅
hearing emptin extinctio
靜 tory 根 awarenes
sound objec s ess n
of ts faculty

For this portion of the Shurangama text, Great Master Jyauguang’s fuller commentaries
are provided. He direct us to go straight to the source, to the nature of hearing. To that
end, I developed a simplistic graph of the stages of listening, which hopefully begins
through the sense faculty and open to the nature hearing directly.

To “enter” means to turn, to reverse. There are two meanings to “flow”.

One, flow as in, “the flow of Dharma”, which is the “nature of hearing.”
Those who enter the flow, reverse the hearing to hear one’s inherent
nature instead of the objects of sound. Two, flow as in pouring forth. To
follow hearing that chases after objects of sound is an outward pouring; it
is the so-called outflow. To reverse the hearing and illumine our nature is
an inward pouring forth; it is the so-called inflow. Both explanations make

This requires that not one thought comes into being. To reflect and look in
a reverse direction is to focus on listening to one’s inherent nature. xxv

The line between auditory objects and inward hearing may be blurry at times, but
even more subtle are the stages one experiences as one’s listening focuses inward.
Great Master Jyauguang quotes Great Master Yongjia in the Q&A section of his

Q: Seeing, listening, and knowing are of the same nature for the sense
organs. Great Master Yongjia says, “Through knowing, one brings up
knowing to know the knowing. This knowing (which one brings up to
know the knowing) is not unconditioned knowing. It is just like a hand
that folds into a fist; the hand cannot be a hand that is not simultaneously a
fist.” Here it says to return the hearing and hear the inherent nature. Were
we to follow what Great Master Yongjia says, it should read, “Through

hearing, one brings up hearing to hear the hearing. This hearing (which
one brings up to hear the hearing) is not unconditioned hearing. It is just
like a hand that folds into a fist; the hand cannot be a hand that is not
simultaneously a fist.” How come these two meanings do not contradict
each other?

A: What [Great Master Yongjia] is talking about is that after the sense
faculty and the objects vanish, a wondrous nature manifests. There can no
longer be two knowings. Letting sensory objects cease is an expedient
practice for new practitioners who have just brought forth their initial
resolve. For that, we must temporarily rely on reversing our hearing to
enter the door. The point at which that which hears and that which is heard
both end, is the same as the point at which a sense faculty and the sense
objects vanish; there would not be two hearings. In addition, how are these
similar: the initial entering of the flow so sensory objects cease and the
initial ceasing of thought as sensory objects fade [according to Great
Master Yongjia]? How can this [state] be the same as [Great Master
Yongjia’s] stage of ending both knowing and extinction? If we wish to
align with the words of the Buddhas and patriarchs, we must know the
order of what comes first and later, then there will be no contradictions.

The words “entering the flow” ( 入 流 ) are about coming together with
enlightenment while the next words, “free of sensory objects” (亡所) are
about going against sensory objects. Ceasing is stripping of, being
liberated from. “Objective states” refers to objects of sound. The above
two characters are about reversing the hearing while the next characters
are about separating from sound. The second Decisive Meaning in the
latter part of the fourth volume thoroughly elucidates how faculties
become knots due completely to objects. Therefore, when sensory objects
cease [for us], the knots dissolve of their own accord. Now we understand
that the sensory objects for the ear faculty should cease to untie the knot of
the ear faculty.xxvi

Q: It seems proper to quit the secular, but why quit and be apart from the
supreme contemplation of principles too?

A: Small steps of understanding become behavior; behavior occurs and

understanding departs. If understanding does not end, then the practice of
no outflow will never be realized. Not to mention, in the reality of the true
mind, it is wrong to even have a movement in thought; how can
understanding even be permitted to stay and search out the warped sounds
of principles? That is why a later verse says: “Instead of keeping the
Buddhas in mind to realize Buddhahood for yourself, why not listen to
your own hearing?” which further cautions us against warped sounds of

principles. Just as a family with a newborn is weary of visitors touching
the newborn, they refuse both unfamiliar guests and close friends to avoid
worries. If they only refuse unfamiliar guests but allow close friends to
come and go, the harm of touching cannot be avoided ultimately. The
warped secular sounds are like unfamiliar guests while warped sounds of
principle are like close friends. Both should be refused.

New practitioners must first not condition any of the warped sounds but
only listen inwardly for our nature that is clear and bright, steady and
unmoving. That way all the crude and evident discriminations will never
rise. As for all the direct sounds of water flowing, wind blowing, bells
tolling, and drums drumming, they are even harder to cease. Refine and
focus even more on the skill of entering the flow, then these will cease
naturally after some time.xxvii
Q: When we achieve the skill of returning the hearing, are we oblivious
and unaware of all sounds like we are drunk or asleep?

A: No. All sounds exist still, but the practitioner only illumines perfectly
the nature of hearing, so does not leak and fall into pouring forth toward

Q: The multitude of sounds are not nonexistent ultimately; is there a time

when they cease to be?

A: Being unaware is different than sounds ceasing. The mind that is

drowsy is unaware; sounds disappearing is ceasing. By reversing the
direction of the hearing toward our inherent nature, hearing becomes
sharper and clearer after a while. There is never a time of unawareness.
There will finally be a day when the sensory objects of sound peel away
and disappear in time. After all, the nature exists inherently and sounds are
inherently empty.

Q: Sounds exist here and now. How can they be inherently empty?

A: For example, people dream of thunder and become shaken and

frightened due to something false. Thunder is inherently empty but
appears to exist in a dream. How is it truly existent? The various sounds
that appear before us are the same way.xxix

Q: Various sounds are unreal like dreams and illusions. After they vanish,
there is nothing to be heard-- does that mean those who realize the Way
become like deaf individuals?

A: No. That would not be true ceasing. Nearby [sounds] vanish for the
sense faculty that collects them as they temporarily sink into withered

stillness. This is equivalent to being in the realm of the form skandha. Just
as people with eyes in a large dark room have their mind’s hearing open
up completely and cover all of space, so it is said, when the inherent
nature develops so that it becomes clear and bright, one can hear what
exists on apexes and what exists in the Unintermittent Hells. One shall
hear even what one was not able to hear before, such as the footsteps of
insects and battles among nearby ants— not to mention other sounds. The
doubt about being like the deaf is most base and

Q: Should “entering the current of the sages so external sounds disappear”

be practiced only in quiet sitting meditation or while doing things too?

A: If it were used during sitting meditation only, why should we have

bothered to argue in detail about the various warped sounds? The great
Samadhi is only realized when movement and stillness are one.xxxi

Q: It is easy to forget while sitting in meditation, so if I don’t ask now, it

will be difficult when I actually face the situation. It is as if someone were
visiting a person he knows. Along the way, he is working hard on strictly
reversing the direction of the hearing toward his inherent nature and not
grasping or attaching to other sounds. Just as the nature of hearing is lucid,
halfway through his trip, he suddenly hears his friend talking on the other
side of the wall. If he does not seek out this sound, his visit would be
futile. If he does seek it out, is he not flowing out and being turned [by

A: It does not hurt to seek out this sound. It is not flowing and turning. To
say it with a verse: Living beings are confused about their inherent
hearing, therefore they flow and turn as they seek out sound. If we sought
out sound and yet our inherent hearing is not confused, that is just
searching for sound. How can it be flowing and turning?xxxii

Q: What is the difference in the qualities of flowing and turning as sound

is being sought versus not turning and flowing when sound is sought?

A: When we reverse the direction of our hearing for our inherent nature
and when the sound sought appears, the nature of hearing becomes
completely confused and obscured as we pursue the sound singularly,
which is flowing and turning. When sound is being sought and the nature
of hearing is clear and not obscured, then it is just a temporary search
whereby one immediately returns. It is also called disposing an object after
the task is finished. So how can it be the same as flowing and turning?
Ponder the above analogy and use it as a measure for everything that we
are involved. Generally, minds of beginners mostly gather strength in
quiet practice. If quiet Samadhi were realized, then over time, various
involvements will not obscure [the nature of hearing]. If beginners have

not yet realized still Samadhi and suddenly wish to be involved in matters
without obscurity, it will be most difficult.xxxiii

Q: It’s difficult to not be pulled when doing things. I am afraid it is

difficult for beginners who are reversing the direction of their hearing to
take care of both noumenon and phenomenon.

A: Mundane individuals would rather dismiss noumenon to do well in

terms of phenonmenon; whereas cultivators would rather dismiss
phenonmenon to do well in noumenon. As we start to cultivate and
advance, who wants us to continue to study secular matters and hope to do
well in both? We should know that people who start to reverse the
direction of hearing only seek to reflect on phenonmenon, speech and the
chores of daily life while in secular society. Remain still when we can. If
we have to, after finishing a phenonmenon or an articulation, quit. Each
should be used at just the right time and not the slightest bit off. Have no
worries or regrets over duties of speech or work. Only hope to reverse our
hearing continuously, then we will be happy.xxxiv

Q: What do the patriarchs mean by being sufficient here and there?

A: This is when intense ceasing has occurred for a long time. Only
reawakening after an end, becoming alive again after death, can one show
one’s unique strength. Beginners cannot do this.xxxv

Q: In earlier commentaries they often supplement this section with

Tiantai’s Three Stoppings and Contemplations. Why doesn’t the
wonderful school of cultivation here use them?

A: That is another practice and not the [key] principles of this sutra.
Furthermore, the first of the Three Contemplations is not apart from the
Six Consciousnesses. This sutra, however, first rejects the Six
Consciousnesses and does not use them, so how can one enter the Three
Contemplations? The integrated and wonderful principles of this sutra are
all fundamentally complete in the mind’s treasury. This is thoroughly
described and revealed in the section of the text on samatha. Prior to
cultivation, practitioners first perfect understanding. When it is time to
cultivate and once action begins, the need for information ends. There is
only one practice on reversing the direction of the hearing. It is very
simple and convenient. No need to bother with a tremendous amount of
knowledge in stopping and contemplating.

The Chan School calls this, “go straight to the point.” To enter the flow is
to merge with enlightening and illuminating principles-- a simple and
wonderful contemplation. Letting go of sensory objects is to go against
sensory objects and end falsehood, which is the simple wonder of

stopping. After a while, Samadhi is realized and the perfectly integrated,
mystical and wondrous substance and function all flow forth from our
“native land.” Therefore the wonderfully enlightened and bright nature of
True Thusness is developed.xxxvi

Then external sounds disappeared. With its direction reversed and with sounds
stilled, both sounds and silence cease to arise 所入既寂,動靜二相,了然不生。
The Vajra Sutra says that [the First Fruition] is called, “entering the flow”,
but actually there is nothing to enter. It also says, “By not entering form,
sound, smell, taste, touch and dharmas, it is called srotapanna.” When the
objects of sound cease, the six sensory objects all cease—that is how we
know. The words “entering the flow” are extremely different for the Great
and Small Vehicles. The Small Vehicle enters the flow but gathers in the
mind to enter deep Samadhi. For them, the nature of Dharma is in fact the
Three Voids. This sutra considers such a state shadows of discrimination
among objects of Dharma. How can this be the same as reversing the
direction of the hearing to hear the inherent nature? Therefore we know
that although the positions they certify to are of the same level, the
principles upon which they are based are extremely different in levels of
So it was that, as I gradually progressed, what I heard and my awareness of
what I heard came to an end 如是漸增,聞所聞盡.

Q: As the nature of sense faculty increasingly brightens, both movement

and stillness cease. Now the nature of sense faculty further ceases. Is that
not complete ending and extinguishing?
A: Only to exhaust the sense faculty, where does it say to extinguish the

Q: Are the sense faculty and its nature two things?

A: Neither two nor one.

Q: How should we treat them?

A: The sense faculty is like ice; the inherent nature is like water. Ice and
water are inherently without any other substance, therefore they are not
two. But ice freezes and creates barriers while water melts and allows for
passing through. Therefore, they are not one. Now when we say the sense
faculty is exhausted, it means that it is analogous to ice melting. How can
it be like water desiccated?

Q: Earlier it talks about how after the two types of sensory objects cease,
we are only aware of the nature of hearing that is extremely still and
quiescent, lucid and boundless. Now that the inner sense faculty is
exhausted, what signs from the previous state indicate this difference?

A: The expedients earlier strip away the two types of sensory objects;
therefore a temporary attachment to the nature of hearing is inside while
the two types of sensory objects are outside. Turn away from the external
and face the internal as if the inner faculties are perpetually present. The
sutra describes in detail “in hearing” and “entering the flow”. “In” and
“enter” indicate that the sense faculty is within.

Only when the two types of sensory objects completely cease are there no
external signs. Since there is not the facing of that which is external, the
inner signs gradually diminish until there is clarity and openness, no more
inside or outside. That is a sign that the sense faculty is exhausted. From
this we know, that the previously discussed boundless [spaciousness] is
not true void. The two types of sensory objects are the limits; they are the
bounds. Now that the two types of sensory objects end, there is no more
limitation or barrier, so it is true boundlessness.

In the earlier discussion, the sense faculty matches the sensory object. The
sensory object is the sign of an other while the sense faculty is the mark of
a self. To reject the other and face the self means the mark of the self is
still intact. To this, the sense faculty and the sensory objects are both
wiped out, that which can sense and the states of the sensory objects both
cease. There is no more self and others, only the nature of Dharma and no
difference between inner and outer. The four crude and fine signs
completely end without any remainder. . . . xxxviii

Even when that state of mind in which everything had come to an end
disappeared, I did not rest. My awareness and the objects of my awareness
were emptied 盡聞不住。覺所覺空。
“What I heard came to an end” verifies the earlier, “what I heard and my
awareness of what I heard came to an end”, which is a state where both
that which listens and that which is listened to are wiped away. Do not
stop. At this point, work harder and advance, surpass this state and do not
stagnate there. Were we to dwell in seeing the end of hearing, we would
be among the arrogant who shut themselves forever in a mirage. The last
line is about a new phase that comes after the end of hearing. The sense
faculty and the sensory objects fall away, the state of lucid boundlessness
manifests. Therefore, the awareness we refer to now is just the wisdom
that illumines such a state. The state of awareness is just this lucid state.
To abide in the end of hearing would mean that wisdom and the state are
forever dual. That which hears the state of sensory objects and the sensory
objects still exist, which is ultimately an impediment to supreme progress,
or what Weishan refers to as the mind of complete awareness and its
objects of awareness.”

Now we say that that which is aware and that which is the object of
awareness are empty. The wisdom that is aware and the states are both
empty and still, eliminated so that there is no more duality. Although the
state and wisdom are both named, that which is capable of awareness and
that which is the object of awareness are both said to be awareness.
Awareness is a quality of mind based primarily on wisdom. To be stingy
with this mind and not abandon it, thinking that it is true prajna wisdom, is
a love for Dharma falsely producing the love of knowledge. Hereafter is
about eliminating discrimination and attachment to the Dharma. xxxix

Q: Discrimination and attachments to the Dharma, like aforementioned

attachments to crude dharmas, should be similarly eliminated. So why is
there still discrimination?

A: This is a fine, subtle and flowing forth of innate discrimination replete

in production; it is not crude discrimination. Actually, it is only because
the contemplation of awareness is not forgotten that the word
“discrimination” is applied here.xl

And when that process of emptying my awareness was wholly complete, then
even that emptying and what had been emptied vanished 空 覺 極 圓 。 空 所

The “emptying” in “when that process of emptying my awareness was

wholly complete” corresponds to the “emptying” in the earlier part of the
text, which states that both that which is capable of being aware and that
which is being made aware are both empty. “To empty awareness” means
to empty both the awareness and the object of awareness. “Wholly
complete” means that cultivation increases to a level of wholeness. The
latter line is about the wisdom of having emptied both that which is empty
and the state emptied. “That which is emptied and the extinction of
emptiness” refer to the total elimination of that wisdom from having
emptied both the subject and object of awareness and wisdom in an earlier

When the wisdom of double emptiness occur and is not yet perfected, that
which can empty and that which is emptied are both intact. Now that the
awareness of emptiness is most perfect, it is not only that the wisdom of
what is emptied is quelled, but the wisdom of both emptying is also
extinguished. Like wood drilling into wood, when fire occurs, both pieces
of wood vanish. Although this is repeated emptying, it is wisdom. What
can empty and that which is being emptied are both said to be emptied of
emptiness-- a state that is likened to a noumenon. If we were stingy about
this state and consider it a noumenon of actuality, it is the love for Dharma
that is falsely produced to love noumenon.

Furthermore, the Sutra text from here on describes the elimination of
attachment to the Dharma. The two types of emptiness, that which is
capable and that which is emptied are apart from the subtle discrimination
in the earlier analysis, remaining to be wielded as the subtly obstructive
shadows of conditions. When these shadows extinguish completely, there
is liberation from the Dharma and true light is about to appear. These two
knots already surpass the stages of the Small Vehicle and more. To fix a
position in the Perfect Teachings, this would be the eighth out of the Ten
Faiths. In terms of the Separate Teachings, it is the eighth of the Ten
Dwellings, Ten Conducts, and the Ten Transferences, the 23rd stage.
Confusion over countless phenomena completely ends.

We should know that these Bodhisattvas are dramatically different than

those of the Small Vehicle with a Fixed Nature. The Bodhisattvas first
sever and tame the cruder attachments to dharmas while those of a Fixed
Nature can only tame and sever them when they complete their
cultivation, which renders them slower and duller. Furthermore, these
Bodhisattvas describe the ultimately comprehensive process of emptying
awareness, accessing something similar to the perfect and bright nature of
emptiness that the Thus Come One spoke of earlier [in the Shurangama
Sutra]. Therefore we know that emptying and that which is being emptied
vanish is liberation from the Dharma. The second section on untying the
Two Knots and attaining liberation from the Dharma concludes here.xli

Coming into being and ceasing to be themselves ceased to be. Then the
ultimate stillness was revealed 生滅既滅。寂滅現前。

Production and extinction include movement and stillness, sense faculty,

awareness, emptiness, and extinction mentioned earlier. The Six Knots are
all collected though they are different in levels of refinement. In summary,
they are all productions and extinction from the mind. The first untying of
knots occurs after the movement of objects cease; stillness comes into
being. The second untying of knots occurs after sensory objects cease; the
sense faculty comes into being. Although noumenon does not come into
being, there is still extinction and preservation; their coming into being or
ceasing manifest clearly. The rest models this. The third untying of knots
occurs after the sense faculty ceases; awareness comes into being. The
fourth untying of knots occurs after awareness ceases; emptiness comes
into being. The fifth untying of knots occurs after emptiness ceases;
extinction comes into being. To this point, were one to abide in the final
mark of extinction, one would be covered by the mark of extinction. When
one remains in the state of emptying forever, one experiences a fall from
the top, a fine impediment. Therefore it is named the sixth knot of
extinction. One should take yet one more step on top of the hundred foot

Patriarchs say that there is more above and call it the final attachment.
However, there is no need to exert any more effort to eliminate. Just as
Confucian texts talk about “avoiding transformations,” this sutra says to
cultivate the Way effortlessly. With a mind that is not attached, the
fundamental noumenon manifests in a single kashana. This mark of
extinction is stripped away. Just as the last line says, “That which is
quiescent is not the quiescence that counters movement.” It is the
quiescence that is fundamentally unmoving since beginningless time. That
which is extinct is not extinction that counters production, but the
fundamentally unproduced extinction from beginningless time. This is the
noumenal substance of fundamental awareness, the nature of the Thus
Come One’s Matrix, the reality of True Thusness that is pure and clear,
pervading the Dharma Realm. It is also called the great sea of still
extinction, also named the Greatly Bright Treasury. It is quiet, illumining,
and embodies emptiness. Overturning the earlier mentioned dichotomy of
production and extinction, we now talk about still extinction in particular;
actually it is the true mind’s entire substance and the myriad functions are
replete in it. Once this noumenon manifests, mountains, rivers and the
great earth will transform into unsurpassed knowing and awareness
accordingly. Distinct sense faculties now converge. Consequently, the six
sense faculties can interchange their functions. All the supreme functions
in the various analyses below all come from here.xlii

Beyond the method described in the 52 Chinese characters, a few sentences here
summarize the result of “listening.”

All of a sudden I transcended the worlds of ordinary beings and also

transcended the worlds of beings who have transcended the ordinary worlds.
And throughout the ten directions a perfect brightness prevailed. I obtained
two supreme states. 忽然超越世出世間。十方圓明。獲二殊勝。
To enter the flow is to guard that which is true and constant. To end the
states of objects is to abandon all coming into being and ceasing. To end
hearing means that sense faculty, sensory objects and consciousness
disappear and fall away in a thought. The two awarenesses take for
defilement the emotions of consciousness. The two emptinesses consider
thoughts and phenomena sensory objects. The earlier line about “the
emptying and that which is being emptied vanish” and the latter line about
“production and extinction cease to be” point to leaving both far behind
after all. “Still extinction manifests” means that the Dharma Eye is clear
and bright. xliii
According to Great Master Yongjia’s text on samatha: to enter the flow is
to cease thinking; to cease the state of objects is to let cease the sensory
objects. We should also imitate the text and say: it is not that we do not
enter the flow because it is not the ending of state of objects; it is not that

we do not let it cease because the state of objects is not about entering the
flow; the ceasing of the state of objects means ceasing occurs when we
enter the flow; enter the flow, then we enter the ceasing of states of
objects. These four lines are equivalent to the non-production of
movement and stillness.

Furthermore, it says, enter the flow by ceasing the objects, then enter
where there is nothing to enter. Cease objects by entering the flow till
there is nothing to cease. These two lines state that sense faculties and
sensory objects are both wiped out, which is at the level of “that which can
hear and that which is heard came to an end.”

Furthermore, let cease objects until there is nothing to cease dispels

sensory object since there is no “object.” Enter until there is nothing to
enter so that thoughts cease and there is no knowing. These two lines
about no corresponding object and no knowing refer to how “awareness
and that which is made aware” are both empty.

Furthermore, know that extinction is always still, which corresponds to the

remaining lines. These two lines are at the level of “emptying the state of
objects and the extinction of emptiness”.

Furthermore, quiescence without reliance on anything is the spontaneous

nature of wonder. These two lines are at the level of “Coming into being
and ceasing to be ceased to be. Then the ultimate stillness is revealed.”
This seems to match seamlessly.

But Great Master Yongjia seems to be about gathering in the six sense
faculties or focusing on the mind faculty. This sutra gathers in the ear
faculty in particular. Also, Great Master Yongjia talks about the initial
disappearance and manifestation, and then the later antidotes in
cultivation. This sutra already discusses the profoundly high level certified
to and only shows its functions later. Now that we look at them together,
the passages seem similar, so that we know the Perfect or Sudden, initial
or latter, are no different in the mind. Practitioners cannot make the excuse
that the position is high so consider [the teachings] unfit for us.

Furthermore, The Song of Enlightenment by Great Master Yongjia says:

The mind is the sense faculty; the Dharma is the sensory object, and both
are like marks on a mirror. Light appear only after marks and defilement
disappear. When both the mind and the Dharma are forgotten, then the
nature is true. This depletes the subtlest and finest love for Dharma and
precisely matches the latter three fine knots.

The text on “the mind is the sense faculty,” mentions the knot of
awareness; “the Dharma is the sensory object” refers to the knot of

emptiness. “Both the mind and the Dharma forgotten” means that
production and extinction end; the final knot of extinction is officially
eliminated. When it says that the nature is real, it is the manifestation of
still extinction.

Glimpsing into the Buddha’s [teachings], we realize that there are not two
ways at first. Students ought to investigate this. The cultivation and
certification of untying knots sequentially conclude here.

The Dharma transmitted by the Buddha of antiquity, Avalokitesvara, and

the cultivation and certification of untying of knots by Shakyamuni
Buddha are non-dual and no different. Having had still extinction
manifest, personally certify to the nature of Treasury, and entering the
Samadhi of the Foremost Shurangama, one shall ascend the Perfect
Teaching’s position in the First Dwelling.xliv

5. “Who is Mindful of the Buddha?”

“First, because I did not listen to sounds, I was able to contemplate the listener within.”xlv

To contemplate the listener within is to ask, “who” is the listener? Elder Master Hsu Yun
puts it succinctly: “To reverse the direction of the hearing and listen to the inherent nature
is just to reverse the direction of contemplation and contemplate our own mind.”xlvi This
contemporary master of preeminence explains that before the Song Dynasty in China,
meditators often became enlightened with a word or two. Since then, people cannot
actually follow this method, such as to actually let go when they know they need to “let it
go,” or “think about neither good nor bad.” Hence, patriarchs came up with the method of
koans (話頭) so that people may concentrate on it and not loosen their grip over it for a

We have many public accounts about meditation. Those that talk about
koans specifically include: “Who is dragging a corpse around?”, “What is
my original face before my parents gave birth to me?” and more often
recently, “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” Actually, they are all the same
and quite ordinary; there is nothing special. Who is reciting the sutras?
Who is reciting a mantra? Who is bowing to the Buddhas? Who is eating?
Who is dressing? Who is walking? Who is sleeping? They are all the
same. The answer to “who”, is the mind.

The koan begins from the mind; the mind is the start of a koan. Thoughts
occur from the mind and the mind is the start of a thought. Everything is
made from the mind; the mind is the start of everything. Actually, koans
are just thoughts-- before a thought is the mind. To put it bluntly, the start
of a koan begins before a thought develops. With this, we know that to
investigate a koan is to contemplate the mind. Our original face before our
parents gave birth to us is the mind. To investigate our original face before

our parents gave birth to us is to contemplate the mind. Our inherent
nature is the mind. “To reverse the direction of the hearing to listen to our
inherent nature” is to reverse the direction of our contemplation and
contemplate our own mind. The marks of pure enlightenment referred to
in the sutra text, “To illumine perfectly the marks of pure enlightenment”
is the mind. To illumine is to contemplate; the mind is the Buddha. To be
mindful of the Buddha is to contemplate the Buddha; to contemplate the
Buddha is to contemplate the mind. Therefore, to investigate a koan, such
as investigating “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” is to contemplate the
mind, which is to contemplate and illumine the pure substance of
enlightenment in our own minds, to contemplate and illumine the Buddha
of our inherent nature. xlvii

6. The Results of Proper Listening

“Now I can hear the cries of suffering beings throughout the ten directions, and I can
bring about their liberation.”xlviii As Avalokitesvara explains, by not illumining outwardly
with the light of wisdom and contemplating secular sounds, but instead simply focusing
on contemplating who is the contemplator, wonderful powers of non-action occur from
proper Samadhi to aid living beings.xlix The Shurangama Sutra goes on to explain the
various situations where Avalokitesvara can rescue living beings by contemplating the
contemplator. The next couple of examples include: “Second, I turned my awareness
around and restored it; therefore, should beings be caught in a conflagration, I can make
sure that they are not burned. Third, I turned my hearing around and restored it; therefore,
should beings be adrift in a flood, I can make sure that they are not drowned. . . ”

During this time and age, the Shurangama Sutra and various commentaries tell us:

In order to transmit the essence of true teaching

Meant for this place --: it is that purity is found through hearing.
Those who wish to gain samādhi’s mastery
Will surely find that hearing is the way to enterl.

“People say that hearing comes about because of sounds,

Not on its own. If that’s what you call ‘hearing,’ though,
Then when you turn your hearing around and set it free from sounds
What name are you to give to that which is set free?

“Return just one of the perceiving faculties

Back to its source, and all six faculties are free.
But since our faculties are all distorted by disease
The Threefold Realm resembles flowers in the sky
And when the faculties are cured of their disease
Their objects vanish, and awareness is completely pure.

“In perfect purity, the brilliance of awareness shines

Unhindered and in still illumination of all

Although the Shurangama Sutra praises the practice of perfect penetration through the
ear organ alone, and recommends this method for beings in the Dharma-ending age, the
true meaning of perfect penetration lies with the profundity that “One is all and all are
one.” The practice of the ear organ is not the sole path to liberation from the cycle of
birth and death. Great Master O’Yi made this point most thoroughly: “How can we say
the meaning lies only with the sense faculty of ears? The erudite Ananda was shown the
supremely wonderful expedient of “listening” so that all he needed to do was follow the
instructions of the Sages back home and return to his true self nature, rather than use his
worldly intelligence. . . although the states contemplated are different, how is the truth
they reveal different? Confused, we falsely claim that there are six senses; awakened, we
do not name even one.”lii Venerable Master Hua also uses the aphorism, “There are not
two roads to the origin, but there are many expedient gates” to address the question of
differences between the koan of “who?” and the sound of silence. “We may have
different faces, but we are all people.” liii The true difference lies with whether we put a
method to practice.

Yumuo. “Western Theravadan Nuns Visit CTTB and America.” Vajra Bodhi Sea: City of 10,000 Buddhas, 1/21/2008.
Ajahn Sumedho. The Sound of Silence: the Selected Teachings of Ajahn Sumedho. Wisdom Publications: Massachusetts,
2007. p.6
Ajahn Sumedho. The Sound of Silence: the Selected Teachings of Ajahn Sumedho. Wisdom Publications: Massachusetts,
2007. p 46
Ajahn Sumedho. The Sound of Silence: the Selected Teachings of Ajahn Sumedho. Wisdom Publications: Massachusetts,
2007. p. 136

陳由斌. 〈談佛陀的耳根修行觀——舉《楞嚴經》為例〉
No. 945 大佛頂如來密因修證了義諸菩薩萬行首楞嚴經 The Shurangama Sutra, a translation, 2nd ed. Burlingame: Buddhist Text
Translation Society, 2009.
陳由斌. 〈談佛陀的耳根修行觀——舉《楞嚴經》為例〉
No. 945 大佛頂如來密因修證了義諸菩薩萬行首楞嚴經 The Shurangama Sutra, a translation, 2nd ed. Burlingame: Buddhist Text
Translation Society, 2009.
陳由斌. 〈談佛陀的耳根修行觀——舉《楞嚴經》為例〉
陳由斌. 〈談佛陀的耳根修行觀——舉《楞嚴經》為例〉

陳由斌. 〈談佛陀的耳根修行觀——舉《楞嚴經》為例〉
陳由斌. 〈談佛陀的耳根修行觀——舉《楞嚴經》為例〉
丁福保: 佛學大辭典. 三覺.(名數)一自覺,二覺他,三覺行窮滿,阿羅漢具自覺之一,菩薩具自覺覺他之二,佛具三覺。[囗 @
又 ]一、本覺,一切眾生本來固有之自性清淨心也。二、始覺,依本覺內薰與教法外薰而妄心漸起契於本覺之知覺者。三、究竟覺,

Six Knots: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind.
• Three Types of Emptiness: the Emptiness of Self, the Emptiness of Dharma, and the
Emptiness of both Self and Dharma.
• Five Skandhas: form, feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness.
• Five Turbidities: of kalpa, view, afflictions, living beings, and life span.



No. 945 大佛頂如來密因修證了義諸菩薩萬行首楞嚴經 The Shurangama Sutra, a translation, 2nd ed. Burlingame: Buddhist Text
Translation Society, 2009
虛雲老和尚. 上海玉佛寺禪七開示 1953 年 3 月 1 日
虛雲老和尚. 上海玉佛寺禪七開示 1953 年 3 月 1 日
No. 945 大佛頂如來密因修證了義諸菩薩萬行首楞嚴經 The Shurangama Sutra, a translation, 2nd ed. Burlingame: Buddhist Text
Translation Society, 2009
No. 945 大佛頂如來密因修證了義諸菩薩萬行首楞嚴經 The Shurangama Sutra, a translation, 2nd ed. Burlingame: Buddhist Text
Translation Society, 2009
No. 945 大佛頂如來密因修證了義諸菩薩萬行首楞嚴經 The Shurangama Sutra, a translation, 2nd ed. Burlingame: Buddhist Text
Translation Society, 2009