by  Ronald Epstein2
(Originally published in Vajra Bodhi Sea, March, 1975, pp. 17-23.)

The first series of doctrinal arguments in the Shurangama-sutra (T. 945) is concerned with the Buddha's refutation of seven hypothetical locations for the mind proposed by Ananda. The arguments are the first step in the development of the teaching of the entire work. A synopsis of the arguments follows.


When Ananda was passing a brothel on his begging rounds, his samadhi power failed him and a prostitute was able to use the power of a deviant non-Buddhist mantra to entice Ananda into bed with her. Since Ananda was on the verge of breaking his vows, it became necessary for the Buddha to send Manjusri Bodhisattva to save him. Upon his return to the Jeta Park, Ananda, newly cognizant of the dangers of his lack of samadhi power, requests that the Buddha teach him about the only three types of samadhi he is familiar with, "wonderful samatha, samapatti and dhyana, the very first expedients by which the tathagatas of the ten directions attained bodhi." Before answering Ananda's request, the Buddha lays the groundwork by first posing a series of questions to Ananda. He begins by inquiring about Ananda's motives for going forth from the home life. Ananda replies that he had done so because he had fallen in love with the world-transcending quality of the Buddha's physical appearance.

The Buddha then informs Ananda that rebirth is caused by lack of knowledge of the pure, bright substance which is the nature of the eternally dwelling true mind and that enlightenment comes through the exclusive use of the straightforward mind.

He then asks Ananda what he uses to love and enjoy the Buddha's physical appearance. When Ananda replies that he uses his mind and eyes, the Buddha then informs him that they are to blame for his being trapped in the conditioned world. In other words, before Ananda can understand any type of cultivation which leads to enlightenment, he must first be able to distinguish the false thinking of his discriminating consciousness from his true mind. Therefore, before he can do anything else, it is imperative that he find out where his mind and eyes are located. What follows are synopses of Ananda's seven successive attempts to find a plausible location for his mind. Each in turn is shown by the Buddha to be untenable.


It is important to keep in mind that, throughout the arguments, what Ananda is referring to by "mind" is neither the fleshly heart3 (the organ inside his chest) nor his true mind; he is referring to discriminating consciousness. Different terms, such as "the divine efficacy of the mind" or "the mind which totally comprehends and is able to know", are used, but the referent is the same.

Location One

Ananda first supposes that his mind is located inside his body. Through the use of analogy the Buddha shows Ananda that that cannot be the case. During preliminary questioning Ananda admits:

(1) He and the Buddha are inside the hall and the hall is inside the Jeta Park.

(2) Since he is inside the hall, he first sees what is inside the hall and then sees the park outside.

(3) He is able to see what is outside because the doors and windows are open.

(4) It is impossible to be inside the hall and see what is outside without being able to see what is inside.

The Buddha then points out that the situation just described is analogous to Ananda's model of the mind inside the body. Ananda is equivalent to the mind; the hall is equivalent to the body, the doors and windows to the perceptual faculties (in this case the eyes), and the park to the external environment. Ananda has already admitted that it is impossible to see the park without first seeing the inside of the hall; it follows that if the mind were actually located inside the body, it would be necessary to see the inside of the body before seeing the external environment. Since this is not the case, Ananda opts for an alternative location.

Location Two

Ananda suggests that the mind is located downside the body, and he employs his own analogy to make his new case. He explains that a lamp first illuminates the room it is in; and, providing that the door to the room is open, only afterwards can its illumination reach the outside. It can be readily seen that Ananda’s analogy is really no different than the one used by the Buddha. Ananda has merely substituted the lamp its light for himself and his vision. He concludes that since we only see the external environment and not inside of our bodies, then in terms of the analogy, lamp must be located outside where it illuminates yard rather than the inside of the room.

The Buddha responds with his own counterexample and asks Ananda whether the assembly can all be filled when a single person eats. Ananda replies that since our bodies are separate and distinct from one another, such a situation cannot occur. The Buddha then argues that two people, one eating and the other not, can be compared to the mind being outside and therefore separate from the body. Employing the analogy both ways, it follows that if when one person eats the other is not filled up, then when the mind knows the body should not receive its knowledge. Or, vice versa, when the body perceives, the mind should not know about its perceptions. The Buddha then demonstrates that such a model does not fit the actual situation. He shows Ananda his hand and asks him whether his mind discriminates the perception of the hand when his eyes (part of his body) see the hand. Since Ananda must reply in the affirmative, he can no longer contend that body and mind are mutually exclusive. Therefore, the mind cannot be located outside the body.

Location Three

Ananda tries again by suggesting that the mind must be hidden in the perceptual faculty, in this case in the eye. He claims that the relation of the eye-faculty to the mind is analogous to that of eyeglasses (lit. crystal bowls)4 to the eyes, so that, just as vision is not obstructed by eyeglasses, the discrimination of the mind follows upon vision without any obstruction.

Here Ananda is returning to a model quite similar to that of the original analogy. He has now replaced himself inside the lecture hall by the eye-faculty and  replaced the doors and windows by the glasses. There are, however, two differences. First', he has taken care of the problem of seeing inside the hall by implying that there are obstructions blocking all views except those leading outside, and second, he has put glass in the doors and windows.

It is the second point which gets Ananda in trouble for when he admits to the Buddha that eyeglasses are seen by the person who wears them, the Buddha then wants to know why the mind does not see the eyes. Moreover, the Buddha points out that if the eyes were seen, then according to the basic Buddhist doctrine of perception, they would by definition be part of the external environment instead of belonging to the perceptual faculties (indriya). Therefore, regardless of whether the eyes are seen or not, Ananda's analogy is shown to be inappropriate.

Location Four

In an attempt to bolster his case by redefining inside and outside, Ananda postulates that what is dark is inside and what is light is outside, so that he can return to his initial contention that the mind is located inside the body. Because the inside of the body has now been defined to be in darkness, the Buddha can no longer object that the mind should first see the internal organs. His mind can only' see what is light through the orifices of the body.

The Buddha demolishes Ananda's new position in two stages. He first attacks Ananda's contention that what is seen is necessarily not internal by analyzing the darkness which is seen when the eyes are closed. According to the Buddhist doctrine of perception, the darkness to be seen must be a state opposite the eye-faculty and therefore outside; therefore, to define darkness as internal does not make sense. Then, taking up the case of the darkness which is seen when the eyes are open, such as in a pitch-black room, the Buddha points out that, if Ananda contends that all darkness is internal, then everything in a pitch-black external environment must then be considered as the inside of one’s body.

The Buddha then anticipates Ananda's possible objection that the eye-faculty might also come into contact with an internal state to produce the "seeing" of internal darkness, so that even though the darkness of the room might be external, some darkness could still be internal. But if such an inward opposite is postulated for the case of the darkness which is seen when the eyes are closed, then when the eyes are open, the Buddha points out, the inward opposite should not disappear. And so it ought to be possible to see one's own face.

The argument seems to be that if you can see internal darkness and external light, then, although the face cannot be seen as part of the illuminated external world, it ought to be seen as an illuminated internal opposite. Or to put it the other way around, since when you open your eyes and see the illuminated external environment, you are unable to turn your vision around to see your face, why should you suppose that when your eyes are closed you turn your vision around to see the darkness inside your body?

If one's own face could be seen--if it had become part of the normally seen external environment--it would have to be external to one's eyes and mind. Since the face is part of the body, the eyes and mind would then have to float in empty space, external to the body. The Buddha continues to explain to Ananda that if his eyes and mind are not part of his body, then his body is just one in a class of external objects which are all seen in the same way. Or vice versa, if one still considers them part of one's body, then other minds and eyes external to one's body should be considered in the same way. Therefore, the Buddha concludes that it should be the case that "the tathagata, who now sees your face, ought also to be part of your body."

In the second part of his refutation the Buddha shifts his focus from what is seen to the one who sees. He points out that if the eyes and mind are separate from the body, then if one locates awareness in the eyes and mind, the body is left without awareness. If one insists that both have their own separate awarenesses, and accordingly two different stores of knowledge, then since two different sets of consciousness are involved, there should be two different people. Therefore, the Buddha concludes "in your one body you should become two Buddhas."5

Location Five

Because he has had little success with his own considerations, Ananda now attempts to apply his knowledge of the Buddha's teaching about conditioned causes to the problem. He concludes that the mind has no definite location but comes into existence by uniting with the necessary and sufficient causes for its existence regardless of their location.

The Buddha discusses the ramifications of Ananda's new view in terms of the substance and location of the mind.

(1) If the mind is without substance, it either (a) lacks location, or (b) has location.

(2) If the mind has substance, then (a) to be in accord with conditions it must have a definite locus as it moves from one set of conditions to the next, and (b) it must be comprised either of a single substance which pervades the body or of multiple substances.

(la) If the mind has no substance of its own, it makes no sense to talk about it uniting with something else.

(lb) Were it to have location without substance, it would be outside of the eighteen elements (dhatus), which is doctrinally impossible.6

(2a) By referring to the case of pinching one's body, the Buddha further shows that it is not logical to talk about a mind that has substance but no definite location. According to Ananda's theory, the mind cannot exist until the proper conditions arise. Since a pinch is located on the boundary between internal and external, then previous to the arising of the proper conditions for the mind to exist at that location, the substance of the mind must be located either inside or outside the body, positions which have already been refuted.7

At this point Ananda makes a basic objection to the Buddha's argument and states that it is the eyes which see and the mind which knows. The eyes do not know and the mind does not see. To point out the fallacy in Ananda's assertion, the Buddha returns to location one, and asks Ananda whether the door of the room is able to see. He further points out that if the eyes were able to see, as long as they are intact, they should be able to function after the death of the body.8

(2b) The Buddha then turns to exploring the possible characteristics of the substance of the mind which Ananda has proposed. Returning to the example of the pinch, he asserts that if the mind is composed of a single substance which pervades the body, then the pinch should be discriminated not only at its actual location, but wherever the mind extends (i.e., over the entire body). If on the other hand the mind is composed of more than one substance, then, as already has been established above (see Location Four), there cannot be a single person. Were the mind a single substance and not totally pervasive, then when you touch your head and foot at the same time, it should be impossible to be aware of both at the same time. Thus the possibilities of Ananda's fifth location are exhausted.

Location Six

Ananda now suggests that the mind is located in the middle, but does not indicate clearly what he means. The Buddha then demonstrates that the location of anything which has an appearance ("representation") is merely relative, so that the middle cannot be considered any definite, specific location. Existence without "representation", he says, is the same as nonexistence. However, Ananda then clarifies his statement t saying that by "middle" he means inbetween the perceptual faculty and its perceptual object (visaya). He claims that since the Buddha taught that consciousness arises between the two, that consciousness must constitute the location of the mind.

The Buddha destroys Ananda's argument by considering whether the mind's substance includes those of the faculty and its perceptual object. Here the Buddha returns to an argument similar to that already established (see Location Four) about the impossibility of the mind consisting of two different substances that are aware. But in the present case, one substance, the faculty, is aware, and the other, the perceptual object, is not. If the mind includes both, then "things and [the mind’s] substance become a chaotic mixture."

Location Seven

In his final attempt to find a location for the mind, Ananda suggests that non-attachment to everything is the mind, and so it should not be considered as having any definite location. However, the Buddha shows Ananda that non-attachment implies something which exists and has characteristics (such as non-attachment) and therefore location. Having a definite location is a form of attachment, and so Ananda's argument collapses.


1 The bulk of the article is taken with only minor changes from the author's Ph.D. Diss. "The Surangama-sutra with Tripitaka Master Hsuan-hua's Commentary An Elementary Explanation of Its General Meaning," University of California, Berkeley, 1975.

2 Originally published under the Chinese Buddhist name ‘I Kuo-jung’.

3 Hsin  (=Skt., citta). The character generally translated ''mind" is the same as that used for the physical heart organ. Both in India and China, the heart,not the brain, was generally thought to be the seat of discrimination

4 Although eyeglasses were a later invention and unknown In India or China at the time, they are introduced by Tripitaka Master Hsuan-hua in his commentary on the section in order to make the argument clearer for the modern reader.

5 The reference is presumably to the rupakaya and not to the dharmakaya.

6 I.e., since the eighteen dhatus are comprehensive, they 1eave no imaginable possibility for further states of existence.

7 See the arguments for Locations One and Two.

8 For the Buddhists, death is defined as the body's permanent loss of the consciousness.