Diamond Sutra

The Diamond Sutra is one of the most historically important texts in Buddhism, in part because a copy of it is the oldest surviving dated printed book in the world (868 A.D.).

Also known by its Sanskrit title Vajracchedika, the Diamond Sutra states that something is what it is only because of what it is not. The text challenges the common belief that inside each and every one of us is an immovable core, or soul. Instead, it proposes a more fluid and relational view of existence. The text is full of negative, or seemingly paradoxical statements by the Buddha, such as “The very Perfection of Insight which the Buddha has preached is itself perfection-less.”

Through a sophisticated method of negation, the Diamond Sutra undermines our perception that there are essential properties in the objects of our experience. First and foremost, the assumption that people have “selves” needs to be abandoned. How can people change when the core of their identity is based in some kind of “self?” Any change based on this assumption would be at best illusory.

Here is a very abbreviated text of the Sutra. The full text can be found here.

The Diamond Sutra

1.  This is what I have heard:

Once, the Buddha was staying at Anathapindika’s retreat in the Jeta Grove near the city of Sravasti, with a gathering of 1250 monks.  After dressing and making his begging rounds in the city and eating his one meal, he sat with the monks.

2.  The monk Subhuti paid his respects to the Buddha and asked a question:  “What should one who wants to travel the Bodhisattva path keep in mind?”

3.  The Buddha answered,  “A Bodhisattva should keep this in mind:  All creatures, whether they are born from the womb or hatched from the egg, whether they transform like butterflies or arise miraculously, whether they have a body or are purely spirits, whether they are capable of thought or not capable of thought:  All of these I vow to help enter nirvana before I rest there myself!

“But keep in mind, Subhuti, that in reality there is no such thing as an I who helps, and no such thing as an other whom I help.  A Bodhisattva who does not recognize this reality is no true Bodhisattva!

4.  “A true Bodhisattva takes no pleasure in this act of compassion and has no interest in appearances.  He simply helps others selflessly.

“Can you measure the east, the west, the north, and the south, Subhuti?”

“No, Lord.”

“Neither can you measure the merit of someone who can help others without thought of himself.”

5.  “Subhuti!  Can anyone tell who is a Buddha on the basis of physical characteristics?”

“No, Lord.  You have taught that Buddhahood is not a matter of physical characteristics.”

“So one who is concerned with appearances will never see the Buddha, but one is not concerned with appearances may.”

6.  Subhuti asked,  “Lord, will there always be people who understand your message?”

Buddha answered,  “Don’t doubt it, Subhuti!  There will always be people who, hearing the message, will adhere to the precepts and practice our way.  Our message will reach people simply because it is true!  There will come a time when many will no longer need words, but will be beyond words.  We must all strive to go beyond the words, because words can be clung to, and we should not cling to things.  Understand that the words of the Buddha are like a raft built to cross a river:  When its purpose is completed, it must be left behind if we are to travel further!

7.  “So tell me, Subhuti.  Have I taught the ultimate teaching?”

“No, Lord.  The ultimate teaching is not something which can be taught, because the ultimate teaching is not a thing which can be grasped or clung to.”

8.  The Buddha said, “Tell me, Subhuti.  If someone gave away a universe full of treasures to help others, would he gain great merit?”

“Yes, Lord.  His merit would be great.  But you have also taught us that, in order for this act of generosity to be genuine, he would not have thought of gaining merit.  In fact, he would not have thought of himself at all!”

The Buddha said, “Now, if someone understands and passes on even four sentences of my message to another, his generosity is even greater.  He is not just giving something, he is helping to create future Buddhas!”

9.  “Tell me, Subhuti.  Would someone who is beginning to understand my message say to himself ‘I have accomplished something grand’?”

“No, Lord.  Saying something like that would mean that the beginner doesn’t understand that there is no ego there to take credit for anything at all!”

“And would someone who is highly advanced in his understanding of my message say to himself ‘I have accomplished something grand’?”

“No, Lord.  Anyone saying such a thing would also be saying that there is indeed an ego that attains something, and something to attain.  These are not the thoughts of someone who understands your message.

“Lord, you have said that I have been successful in achieving peace and freedom from passions.  In fact, I no longer crave the status of a saint.  If I did, I am sure that you would never have thought so much of me!”

10.  “Subhuti, If I say, ‘Bodhisattvas adorn the heavens,” would I be speaking the truth?”

“No, Lord.  Adornments are illusions, and illusions have no place in the heavens.”

“And so Bodhisattvas should rid their minds of ego, and cease their preferences for one odor or another, one sound or another, one sight or another.  A Bodhisattva should have no attachment or aversion to anything.”

The Buddha asked, “Subhuti, if a man had a body as huge as a mountain, would he be a great man?”

“No, Lord.  Because “a great man” is only words, and being a great man is an illusion, created by the belief in ego.”

13.  Then Subhuti asked the Buddha, “Lord, what shall we call this sermon?”

The Buddha answered,  “Call it ‘The Diamond Sutra on the Perfection of Wisdom.’  Like a diamond blade, it can cut through all delusion!”

14.  Then Subhuti suddenly had a full awareness of the meaning of the sermon, and was moved to tears.  “Lord, thank you for this sermon.  Anyone who hears it and understands it with a pure mind will be moved by it.  Even hundreds of years into the future, its clarity will be appreciated.”

32.  “Subhuti, if someone gave away enough treasure to fill a universe, he would still not gain as much merit as someone who manages to understand and pass on a few lines of this sermon.

“So what should be on one’s mind as one begins the Bodhisattva journey?

“Like a falling star, like a bubble in a stream,
Like a flame in the wind, like frost in the sun,
Like a flash of lightning or a passing dream —
So should you understand the world of the ego.”

Subhuti and the rest of the monks were filled with joy at hearing the Buddha’s sermon.

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