The Diamond Sutra
In Anathapindika's Park, near the once great city of Shravasti in northern India, twelve hundred and fifty mendicant seekers gathered round to hear the words of the Buddha.
The disciple Subhuti arose and, raising his hands with palms joined in respect, said: "World-Honored One, if good men and women seek enlightenment, how should they then conduct themselves?"
"They should discipline their thoughts as follows," Buddha replied. "If all living creatures were caused by me to attain unbounded liberation, in truth no being would have been liberated. And why is this? Because no enlightened being cherishes the idea of an ego-entity or separated individuality."
"Furthermore," the Buddha said, "a bodhisattva [aspirant] should practice good acts without regard to acquisition, without attachment to appearances. Thus is merit gained, as Krishna instructed Arjuna in The Song of the Blessed One [Bhagavad Gita], when action is performed with detachment."
"Do you think that Reality is to be recognized by the senses as some material characteristic?"
"No, World-Honored One."
"That's right, Subhuti. Wherever there are so-called material characteristics, there is delusion. But whoever perceives that all thought-formed characteristics are in fact no-characteristics, perceives Reality."
"Will there always be men who truly understand this teaching?" Subhuti asked.
"Yes, and why is that? It is because some will not cherish the idea of individuality, of a separated being. Neither will they cherish the idea that things have intrinsic qualities, which includes the idea of an ego or individuality, nor even that things are devoid of intrinsic qualities. For the latter idea implies the former. My teaching of the dharma, the good law, is like a raft that has carried one safely across a flood. One does not continue the journey carrying the raft upon ones head. Thus even the buddha-teaching must be relinquished."
"Has the Buddha attained enlightenment, Subhuti? Has he a teaching to enunciate?"
"As I understand Buddha's meaning there is no formulation of truth called enlightenment," he answered. "Moreover there is no teaching to enunciate. The Buddha has said that truth is uncontainable and inexpressible. It neither is nor is not."
"This unformulated principle is the foundation of the different systems of all true sages, Subhuti. Does a holy one say to himself, 'I have obtained perfect enlightenment'?"
"No, World-Honored One, for that would partake of the idea of an ego or individual self. Claiming spiritual superiority is separative and enhances the illusory personhood."
"Does a buddha set forth any majestic buddha-lands?"
"No," Subhuti answered, "because such 'setting forth' is not a majestic setting forth but merely a name."
"Therefore," Buddha said, "all bodhisattvas should develop a pure, lucid mind that alights upon nothing whatsoever."
"By what name should this discourse be known, World-Honored One, and how should we receive and retain it?"
"It should be known as the Diamond Cutter of Perfect Wisdom. But according to the buddha-teaching, the perfection of transcendental wisdom is not really such, but just the name given to it."
Upon hearing the discourse Subhuti had an interior realization and was moved to tears. "It is a most precious thing, World-Honored One, that you should deliver this supremely profound discourse," he said. "Never have I heard such an exposition since my eye of wisdom first opened. If anyone listens to this discourse with a pure, lucid mind, he will thereupon have an insight into fundamental reality."
"Just as you say," Buddha replied. "If anyone listens to this discourse and is filled with neither alarm nor awe nor dread, then be it known that such a one is of remarkable insight."
"The first perfection, the perfection of charity, is not, in fact, the first perfection; it is merely a name. Likewise the perfection of patience is not such. Therefore bodhisattvas should leave behind all phenomenal distinctions and awaken the thought of enlightenment by not allowing the mind to depend upon notions evoked by thought."
"The mind should be kept independent of any thoughts that arise within it, or it has no sure haven. As bodhisattvas practice charity for the welfare of all living beings, they should do it in this manner. Just as the Tathagata declares that characteristics are not characteristics, so he declares that all living beings are not, in fact, living beings."
"The Tathagata is he who declares that which is ultimate. The truth to which the Tathagata has attained is neither real nor unreal."
"You should know, Subhuti, that the significance of this discourse is beyond conception; likewise the fruit of its rewards is beyond conception."
"World-Honored One, if good men and women seek enlightenment, how should they abide and how control their thoughts?"
Buddha replied: "They must create this resolved attitude of mind, 'I must liberate all living beings; yet when all have been liberated, verily not anyone is liberated.' In reality there is no formula that gives rise to the consummation of incomparable enlightenment. Tathagata is a signification pointing to all possible paths to the pathless land. The basis of the Tathagata's attainment of enlightenment is wholly BEYOND; it is neither real nor unreal."
"If a bodhisattva announces 'I will liberate all living creatures,' he is not rightly called a bodhisattva. There is really no such condition as bodhisattvaship, because all things are devoid of separated individuality. Bodhisattvas who are truly devoid of any conception of separate selfhood are truthfully called bodhisattvas."
"If there were as many Ganges rivers as the sand grains of the Ganges and there was a buddha-mind for each sand grain in all those rivers, would those buddha-minds be many?"
"Many, indeed," said Subhuti.
"All these are not minds; they are merely called 'mind.' It is impossible to retain past mind, impossible to hold on to present mind, and impossible to grasp future mind."
"If anyone says that the Tathagata sets forth a teaching he really slanders Buddha and is unable to explain what I teach. As to any truth-declaring system, truth is undeclarable; so an 'enunciation of truth' is just the name give to it."
"In future ages," Subhuti asked, "will there be men coming to hear a declaration of this teaching who will be inspired?"
"Those to whom you refer are neither living beings nor not-living beings. 'Living beings' are not really such; they are merely thought of as such."
Subhuti asked: "In the attainment of enlightenment did the Buddha make no acquisition whatever?"
Buddha replied. "Through the consummation of incomparable enlightenment nirvana I acquired not the least thing."
"Furthermore, THIS Suchness before you is altogether everywhere, without differentiation or degree. It is straightly attained by freedom from separate selfhood and by cultivating all kinds of goodness. But, though we speak of "goodness," the Tathagata declares that there is no goodness."
"Let no one say the Tathagata cherishes the belief 'I must liberate all living beings.' In reality there are no 'living beings' to be liberated by the Tathagata. If there were living beings for the Tathagata to liberate, he would partake of the belief in selfhood, personality, ego-entity and separated individuality."
"May the Tathagata be perceived by the thirty-two marks of a great man?" Buddha asked.
"As I understand the meaning of Buddha's words, the Tathagata may not be perceived by the thirty-two marks," Subhuti replied.
"Whereupon the World-Honored One uttered this verse:"
"Who seeks me by form,
Who seeks me in sound,
Perverted are his footsteps upon the way;
For he cannot perceive the Absolute."
"The Tathagata's attainment of enlightenment was not by reason of his perfected form. On the other hand, do not believe that anyone in whom dawns the consummation of incomparable enlightenment would declare that all manifest standards are ended and extinguished. Such a man does not affirm concerning any formula that it is finally extinguished."
"What is the saying, World-Honored One, that bodhisattvas are insentient as to rewards of merit?"
"Bodhisattvas who achieve merit should not be fettered with desire for rewards. Thus it is said that the rewards of merit are not received."
"If anyone should say that the Tathagata comes or goes or sits or reclines, he fails to understand my teaching. Why? Because the Tathagata has neither whence or whither."
"When the Tathagata speaks of worlds, these are not worlds; the Tathagata teaches that there is really no such thing."
"Contemplating fanciful ideas about other worlds cannot explain the real nature of a cosmos," Buddha agreed. "Only common people fettered with desire make use of this arbitrary method."
"If anyone should say that Buddha declares any conception of egoity, would he understand my teaching?"
"No," Subhuti replied, "because the World-Honored One declares that notions of selfhood, personality, entity, and separated individuality are erroneous; these terms are merely figures of speech."
"Those who aspire to the consummation of incomparable enlightenment should recognize and understand all the varieties of things in the same way and cut off the arising of conceptual views," Buddha said.
"Now in what manner may one best explain this teaching to others? By detachment from appearances—abiding in Truth, in the great What-Is. So I tell you:
Thus shall ye think of all this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream;
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream."
When Buddha finished this discourse, the venerable Subhuti and all the others were filled with wonder and, taking his words to heart, they went their varying ways.
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