The Fifty Skandha-demon States in the Shurangama Sutra
The Buddha explained these fifty demons to help people detect such states. If they understand the principles behind these Fifty Skandha-demon States, they will not be influenced by mental states. This is the crucial point.
Now that we are investigating the Fifty Skandha-demon States, perhaps five hundred skandha-demons will manifest themselves! So don't open the door and invite the demons to come in and make trouble. Although they are demons, they also help us to cultivate the Way by opposing us. It all depends on how firm your resolve is. If you are very determined, a thousand demons cannot make you waver, ten thousand demons cannot make you retreat, and nothing can scare you. If you seek nothing, then, as it is said, “At the place of seeking nothing, there are no more worries.” Since you seek nothing, you won't be afraid of anything.
Someone says, “I'm afraid!” What are you afraid of? Some people fear ghosts because of their grotesque appearance. Everyone knows that after people die, they become ghosts; that's why they fear ghosts. No one is afraid of spirits, however. The spirits clad in golden armor are quite ferocious, yet no one fears them. Confucius said, “One should respect ghosts and spirits but keep them at a distance.” Simply respect them, but don't draw near to them. Fear neither ghosts nor spirits.
Demons provide the tests that we cultivators have to undergo, so we should not be afraid of them. Even if you're afraid and don't want the demons to come, they will still come. If you have no fear, then even if they want to come, they won't be able to. That is the essential secret: Don't be afraid. To be unafraid is to be true. What is true can overcome anything; as it's said, “the false cannot defeat the true.” Demons are afraid of what is true, great and bright. If you are true, great and bright, then the demons will behave themselves and even bow to you.
Now we are investigating the Fifty Skandha-demon States─demonic states associated with the skandhas of form, feeling, thinking, formations, and consciousness. This is just a general explanation; to study this in detail would require discussion of an infinite number of states. The Buddha explained these fifty kinds of mental states to make it easier for people to detect them. If they understand the principles behind these Fifty Skandha-demon States, they will not be influenced by mental states. This is the crucial point.
If you don't want to be influenced by mental states, you must first and foremost uphold the precepts. Precepts are the basis for the various kinds of samadhi, and samadhi is the basis for wisdom. Wisdom is the basis for attaining Buddhahood. If you want to become a Buddha, you must cultivate precepts, samadhi, and wisdom. If you don't, then you are merely looking for the Dharma outside the mind; you are simply seeking among externals. If you have the power of precepts, you will also have the power of samadhi. When you truly have samadhi power, you will have the power of wisdom as well. They give rise to one another: Precepts give rise to samadhi; samadhi gives rise to wisdom; and with wisdom, you can achieve Buddhahood. If you lack any one of them, you won't succeed.
So as we engage in our investigation, we should maintain an objective frame of mind; we should not be subjective. If we are subjective, it's easy to become prejudiced. Observe with the Dharma-selecting Eye and investigate with the Wonderful Contemplative Wisdom. But don't become attached to contemplation. This Wonderful Contemplative Wisdom is like a mirror; it is similar to the Great Perfect Mirror Wisdom. The Great Perfect Mirror Wisdom doesn't move or waver; it can reflect the true appearance of all dharmas. The Wonderful Contemplative Wisdom requires the power of contemplation in order to perceive clearly. We must remain objective and not be influenced by prejudiced views; only then will we be able to recognize mental states. Once we recognize a mental state, we will not be confused by it.