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I've read that this sutra is one of the most direct routes to enlightenment and one of the most important, yet because future generations cannot handle this sutra, its disappearance was foretold.

I can find only a few English versions of this on the web and they each vary considerably, as if to indicate the prophecy is coming true. Among Buddhist teachers of certain (esoteric?) sects this is a favorite, but most teachers largely ignore it.

Can someone shed light on its relevance to the modern aspirant? What are its criticisms?

Why is it not more popular if its dire warnings are true? Are there reliable or canonical versions to follow? What is the history of this sutra?

Within Buddhism, there are very many important sutras. However, the most important sutra is the Shurangama Sutra. If there are places which have the Shurangama Sutra, then the Proper Dharma dwells in the world. If there is no Shurangama Sutra, then the Dharma-ending Age appears. Therefore, we Buddhist disciples, each and every one, must use our strength and our blood, sweat, and toil to protect the Shurangama Sutra. In the Sutra of the Ultimate Extinction of the Dharma, it says very, very clearly that in the Dharma-ending Age, the Shurangama Sutra will be the first to disappear. The rest of the sutras will follow. As long as Shurangama Sutra does not disappear, then the Proper Dharma Age is present.

(Extract from introduction to Sutra)

  • See also Dharma-ending age in suttas and solution? – ChrisW Jun 24 '15 at 7:06
  • Thanks for the link, there are several warning signs that have already come to pass. There is mention of climate change, shortening solar cycles, women outliving men, population explosion, drying up of rivers and several other phenomenon in the sutra. There is also mention of scientists who say all of this including climate change is normal, and there is no cause to worry. However, I am interested in the main of the sutta, which doesn't seem to get as much attention as the warnings. – Buddho Jun 24 '15 at 7:11
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    You mention how different versions of the sutra vary considerably. I think I should mention that there are two sutras with very similar names. There is one that is just called the Shurangama Sutra that is a dialogue between the Buddha and Ananda about the nature of mind, and then there is the Shurangama-Samadhi Sutra composed in China that is about meditation, so maybe you are looking at two totally different sutras. – Bakmoon Aug 15 '15 at 14:45
  • Thanks that explains why it was that when I went to re-read the meditation on sound section I could only find dialogues between Ananda and the Buddha. – Buddho Aug 15 '15 at 16:00
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In the introduction to her translation of the Ugraparipṛcchā Jan Nattier notes that texts are more likely to have been translated into English if they have two features: firstly if there is a extant Sanskrit text; and secondly if they have been influential in Japanese Buddhism. And thirdly if they:

portray the Buddhist messages in terms congruent with certain core western values such as egalitarianism (e.g. the universal potential for Buddhahood according to the Lotus), lay-centred religion (e.g., the ability of the lay Buddhist hero of the Vimalakīrti to confound highly educated clerics in debate), the simplicity and individuality of religious practice (e.g., the centrality of personal faith in Amitābha in the Sukhāvatīvyūha), and even anti-intellectualism (e.g., the apparent rejection of the usefulness of rational thought in the Heart Sūtra, the Diamond Sūtra, and other Perfection of Wisdom texts). (Nattier. A Few good Men. 2003, p.6)

Many scholars consider the Śūraṅgama Sūtra to have been composed, or compiled from other sources, in China. That the Chinese did this kind of thing is quite common. The well known Heart Sutra is another prominent example. There is no Sanskrit "original". And on the whole the themes do not appeal to Westerners. So the text is unlikely to appeal to a Western Audience. Vast differences in English translations are common because of the range of ability of translators and the very great difficulties of rendering ancient Chinese into English.

The apocalyptic themes of the text are exaggerated versions of such predictions which occur throughout Buddhist literature. Like many millennial predictions of disaster they simply have not come true. The end of the world simply fails to happen, no matter who is predicting it, and there is always someone predicting it.

While the Śūraṅgama itself may be fading out as because it is irrelevant to modern Buddhist practice, there is resurgent interest in other Buddhist texts. Witness the massive project funded by the Numata Foundation to translation the entire Chinese tripiṭaka. Also the there is huge interest in doing comparative work on the Pāli Nikāyas and Chinese Āgamas. At the grass roots level Buddhism continues to be moderately popular in the West, but is being revived in China as restrictions on religious observance are relaxed.

  • Thanks for the answer and welcome. I've been a follower of your blog for a while now and think it is excellent. – Buddho Aug 16 '15 at 3:07
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I've read parts of the Shurangama-Samadhi Sutra, and I think the main reason it isn't so popular in the West is that it is written in a rather formal and verbose, and it has long passages with long lists. Most Sutras that are popular in the west have a much faster pace to them and are less formal in style, such as the Heart Sutra, Diamond Sutra, Lotus Sutra, etc...

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Actually, when you look at the Table of Contents of the Shurangama sutra, you will notice the topics that are covered are all covered in the Theravadin suttas and especially Bill Bodri's book How to measure and Deepen Your Spiritual Realization which in my opinion is an excellent translation and regurgitation of Shurangama sutra and the entire spiritual path in general. Six Planes, Fifty False states caused by the Five Aggregates, storehouse consciousness... check out the TOC of the sutta and if you are familiar with Buddhism you will see it talks about the same things... except with probably more esoteric definitions than the Theravadin can provide.

Hopefully we see a good official english translation in the next decade but until then we can just refer to the Theravadin sutta for translations on the same subjects.

Surangama sutta will not disappear. The warning was a skillful means to make practitioners uphold this sutta more than others as it is a summary of what it TRULY means to practice Buddhism towards self-enlightenment.

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I started in Theravada Buddhism and during meditation, several of the 50 False Skandhas manifested. I was advised by the Theravada monk to ignore what I see ( particularly the 3Dimensional Gold Shining Buddha appeared in front of me knowing my eyes is close but I can see through my eyes. Later, when I was practicing Tibetan Buddhism, several practicing Buddhist inform me that what I was experiencing while meditation are well described under Chapter VIII of the Surangama Sutra when one is near Samadhi If any scholars say this Sutra is not from Sakyamuni but from a group of Chinese monks that created the Sutras are mistaken

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