The Six Thieves: Eyes, Ears, Nose, Tongue, Body and Mind

Ven. Master Hsuan Hua
Lectured in Jan. 1983

Excerpted from The Shurangama Sutra - The Fifty Skanda-Demon States, published by DRBA/DRBU/BTTS. p. 621 - 623 (Appendix # 40)

We are now here investigating the Buddhadharma every day, and we should apply ourselves to it in the morning and in the evening, that’s how it should be, day after day.  If we fail to do this one day, then we’ll have missed an opportunity.  In the very second that you think of not continuing to do this, you lose the benefit you have gained.  It’s like a cat waiting to catch a mouse.  It stays there waiting for a few days, and then goes off, because it’s not patient enough.  As soon as it leaves, the mouse comes out and doesn’t get caught.  That’s how strange it is.  It is also like when someone has been fishing for a few days, but no fish have snapped the bait, because all the small fish have been devoured by a big fish.  The big fish, having eaten its fill of little fish, doesn’t want to eat anything else, so it’s just there sleeping.  It doesn’t eat for several days, but when it finally starts getting hungry, the fisherman runs out of patience and leaves, without having caught a single fish.  

Basically, fishing and catching mice are both acts of killing.  We cultivators are also engaged in killing.  Our targets are the six thieves—our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind.  We’ve been keeping watch over these six thieves for a few days, and so they haven’t been able to have their way.  But as soon as we become lax, the six thieves act up and rebel.  That’s how fierce they are.  That’s why we must be devoted in thought after thought.  We must not slack off for even one second, or else the demons come.  The demons bothered cultivators even when the Buddha was in the world, so we have to be  very cautious and to constantly work hard at cultivation.  

What proof is there that demons were around when the Buddha was in the world?  When the Sutras were being compiled after the Buddha had entered Nirvana, Ananda took the seat of the Dharma host in the Dharma assembly. At that time, his appearance became inconceivably adorned  and perfect.  The Arhats in the assembly wondered what was going on:  

“What?  Has Ananda become a Buddha?”  

“Has a Buddha come from another world?”  

“Is this a demon?”  

Now, if there were no demons during the Buddha’s time, why did those great Arhats entertain such doubts right after the Buddha had entered Nirvana?  Demons must have frequently showed themselves even in the Buddha’s day.  All of you should reflect on this.  When we apply ourselves to cultivation, we must not be careless even for an instant.  At all time, we must plant our feet on solid ground and seriously cultivate.  We are pursuing the truth, and if we slack off even the slightest bit, our karmic obstacles will appear.


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