Then the World-Honored One stretched forth his arm and opened his shining, cotton-soft, finely webbed hand, revealing the wheel-shaped lines on his fingers. To instruct Ananda and the others in the great assembly, he said, “After my awakening, I went to the Deer Park, where, for Ajnatakaundinya’s sake and for the other four monks,* and also for all of you in the four assemblies, I said that beings in their multitudes have not become Arhats, nor have they become fully awake, because they are confused by afflictions that are like visitors and like dust. What in particular, at that time, caused the five of you to awaken and become sages?”
Then Ajnatakaundinya stood up and said respectfully to the Buddha, “Of all the elders here in this great assembly, I was the one who was given the name ‘Ajnata,’ meaning ‘one who understands,’ because I had come to realize what ‘visitor’ and ‘dust’ signify. It was in this way that I became a sage.
“World-Honored One, suppose a visitor stops at an inn for a night or for a meal. Once his stay is ended or the meal is finished, he packs his bags and goes on his way. He’s not at leisure to remain. But if he were the innkeeper, he would not leave. By considering this example of the visitor, the one who comes and goes, and the innkeeper, the one who remains, I understood what the visitor signifies. He represents transience.
“Again, suppose the morning skies have cleared after a rain. Then a beam of pure light from the rising sun may shine through a crack in a door to reveal some motes of dust obscuring the air. The dust moves, but the air is still. Thus by consideration of this example — the dust, which as it moves obscures the air, and the air, which itself remains still — I understood what the dust may signify. It represents motion.”
The Buddha said, “So it is.”
When the sun has just come up, early on a clear fresh morning, a morning after rain, the sun shines through a crack in the door or perhaps a crack in the wall, and it displays the fine bits of dust bobbing up and down in space, moving all around in the sunshine. If the sun doesn’t shine in the crack, you can’t see the dust, although there is actually a lot of dust everywhere. But while the dust moves, bobbing up and down, space is still. It doesn’t move. The ability to see the dust in the light that pours through the crack represents the attainment of the light of wisdom. When you reach the first stage of an Arhat and overcome the eighty-eight kinds of deluded awareness, you have the light of wisdom. Then you can see your ignorance, which moves like the dust in sunlight and which causes as many afflictions as there are sand-grains in the River Ganges. You will also see the unmoving stillness of your essential nature.
*The other four monks who were staying with Ajnatakaundinya at the Deer Park were Asvajit, Bhadrika, Dasabala-Kasyapa, and Mahanama. After becoming fully awakened, the Buddha went to the Deer Park, where he taught these five ascetics; they were awakened by his teaching and became his first disciples.
From Surangama Sutra: A New Translation with Excerpts from the Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. Buddhist Text Translation Society, ISBN 978-0881399622
Image: Seated Buddha Shakyamuni, the Right Hand in Abhaya Mudra, the Left Hand Holding a Jewel, Chinese, late 6th century. © Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
Lovely metaphor from an important sutra that is too often neglected.
👍 Yes, a great sutra Jim.
I am thankful that there were a few in the Buddha’s time who had “little dust in their eyes”, and that in our time we have such teachings that help keep us sane.
Lovely extract. Thank you.