The Diamond Sutra could stand alone as an entry into the most profound spiritual practice; those who read it – even disregarding other Sutra’s, are destined for enlightenment according to the Buddha.
Buddhism and the spiritual descendants of it (most modern meditational practices) take their cue from many literary sources. None is more central to it, though, than the Diamond Sutra itself. Unpacking it takes a lifetime – reading it once yields a lifetime worth of insight.
Here I offer an extremely abridged version of it – never use this as a substitute for the entire 32 chapter original; it’s simply meant as an offering for those who wish to use it to preface their meditation practice.
The Diamond Sutra (extremely condensed);
At one time the Buddha was staying in the Jeta Grove.
One day, amidst over 1000 disciples, after completely his daily obligations (including begging), he sat.
He fixed his attention in front of himself, while many monks seated themselves around him intuitively.
Subhuti, his most beloved disciple, rose from his seat.
“I have a question to ask you. If we wish to awaken enlightenment – to attain perfect insight and wisdom, how may we go about silencing our drifting minds – how may we subdue our attachments?”
“To develop perfect insight – to develop perfect wisdom, to disavow attachment (the cause of suffering), they should listen to what I will say now. My words will allow them to overcome desire, cravings, attachment and suffering.”
“It is possible to attain perfect tranquility and clarity of mind by absorbing and dwelling on the teachings I am about to give.”
“All living beings, whether born from eggs, from the womb, from moisture, or spontaneously; whether they have form or do not have form; whether they are aware or unaware, whether they are not aware or not unaware, all living beings will eventually be led to the final Nirvana, the final end to the system of conditioned suffering
Even when each of these infinite number of living beings have all been liberated, in truth not even a single being has actually been liberated.”
“Why Subhuti? Because if a disciple still clings to the arbitrary illusions of form or phenomena such as an ego, a personality, a self, a separate person, or a universal self existing eternally, then that person is misguided.”
“Give comfort and compassion with total detachment (without desire for reward or ego)
He should practice compassion and charity without regard to appearances, without regard to form, without regard to sound, smell, taste, touch, or any quality of any kind.
Why? Because practicing compassion and charity without attachment is the way to reaching the Highest Perfect Wisdom, it is the way to becoming a living Buddha.” (Becoming a Bodhisattva – or Ananda)
“Subhuti, do you think that you can measure all of the space, time, perspective and elements of all universes?”
“The same is true of the merit of the disciple who practices compassion and charity without any attachment to appearances, without cherishing any idea of form. It is impossible to measure the merit they will accrue. Subhuti, my disciples should let their minds absorb and dwell in the teachings I have just given.”
(Having been transmitted this notion of selfless compassion, disavow its egoistic content. This is a paradoxical statement, but the Buddha will repeatedly contradict his own statements purposefully).
Buddha: “Can the Buddha be recognized by means of his bodily form?”
“No, the Buddha cannot be recognized by means of his bodily form. Why? Because when the Buddha speaks of bodily form, it is not a real form, but only an illusion.”
The Buddha then spoke to Subhuti: “All that has a form is illusive and unreal. When you see that all forms are illusive and unreal, then you will begin to perceive your true Buddha nature.”
(This is a critical point. It is a purposeful oxymoron – it directly conveys truth without exposition. Once we comprehend the essence of it, we disregard the form that essence took.)
Even 500 years after the Enlightenment of this Buddha there will be some who are virtuous and wise, and while practicing compassion and charity, will believe in the words and phrases of this Sutra and will awaken to true insight.
When some people hear these words, they will have understood intuitively that these words are the truth.”
“Remember, though, that the person who receives this transmission fully has, himself, created the causes and conditions for its transmission through decency and preparation in many previous lives.”
“Such a person must have discarded all arbitrary notions of the existence of a personal self, of other people, or of a universal self. Otherwise their minds would still grasp after such relative conceptions. Furthermore, these people must have already discarded all arbitrary notions of the non-existence of a personal self, other people, or a universal self. Otherwise, their minds would still be grasping at such notions. Therefore anyone who seeks total Enlightenment should discard not only all conceptions of their own selfhood, of other selves, or of a universal self, but they should also discard all notions of the non-existence of such concepts.”
(Getting at the truth through negation is a powerful method of transmission. As soon as a word/concept is formulated and offered, its form is negated. Either its essence was transmitted – or not.)
“When the Buddha explains these things using such concepts and ideas (words, forms, examples), people should remember the unreality of all such concepts and ideas.
In teaching spiritual truth the Buddha always uses these concepts and ideas (temporary, paradoxically empty ones) in the way that a raft is used to cross a river. Once the river has been crossed over, the raft is of no more use, and should be discarded. These arbitrary concepts and ideas about spiritual things need to be explained to us as we seek to attain Enlightenment. However, ultimately these arbitrary conceptions can be discarded. Think Subhuti, isn’t it even more obvious that we should also give up our conceptions of non-existent things?” (It makes sense to abandon things that are empty – even if they were used initially with purpose).
The Buddha asked Subhuti, “What do you think: has the Buddha arrived at the highest, most fulfilled, most awakened and enlightened mind? Does the Buddha teach any teaching?”
Subhuti replied, “As far as I have understood the lord Buddha’s teachings, there is no independently existing object of mind called the highest, most fulfilled, awakened or enlightened mind. Nor is there any independently existing teaching that the Buddha teaches.
The teachings that the Buddha has realized and spoken of cannot be conceived of as separate, independent things and therefore cannot be described. The truth in them is uncontainable and inexpressible. It neither is, nor is it not. What does this mean? What this means is that Buddhas and disciples are not enlightened by a set method of teachings, but by an internally intuitive process which is spontaneous and is part of their own inner nature.”
(This is an inexpressible transmission of truth. The forms and words used to describe truth both exist and do not exist; also, though, and more importantly, they do not not exist or not exist.)
Comparing a person who has done good deeds more numerous than all things in every realm combined to a person who has shared this basic teaching (the Diamond Sutra), who gains more?
He who shares this teaching does – as this teaching precedes all unabated goodness.
“And yet, even as I speak, Subhuti, I must take back my words as soon as they are uttered, for there are no Buddhas and there are no teachings.”
Buddha then asked: Does an enlightened person say “I am enlightened?”
“No, Buddha”, Subhuti replied.
A truly enlightened person sees no difference, ultimately, between the form and “state” of enlightenment and that of unenlightened – and they are both “forms”, and no form has regard.
Does a person who has proceeded to highest enlightenment say to themselves that they have done so?
“No, Lord. ‘Enlightenment is only a word. There is no passing away, or coming into, existence. Only one who realizes this can really be called a disciple.”
“Does that person who has exhausted all karma and will be born no more – do they say so?”
“No, Perfectly Enlightened One. A ‘Non-returner’ is merely a name. There is actually no one returning and no one not-returning.”
Does a Buddha say to himself, ‘I have obtained Perfect Enlightenment.’?”
“There is no such thing as Perfect Enlightenment to obtain. If a Perfectly Enlightened Buddha were to say to himself, ‘I am enlightened’ he would be admitting there is an individual person, a separate self and personality, and would therefore not be a Perfectly Enlightened Buddha.”
Subhuti: Buddha – You have told me I excel at all teachings and have absorbed the diamond truth. Yet, to accept this merit would be to disregard it.”
Know that if any Buddha would say, ‘I will create a paradise,’ he would speak falsely. Why? Because a paradise cannot be created nor can it not be uncreated.” (the mind creates divisions – even the most sublime realisation is, in reality, a division – and thus, false).
“A disciple should develop a mind which is in no way dependent upon sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensory sensations or any mental conceptions. A disciple should develop a mind which does not rely on anything.”
“Therefore, Subhuti, the minds of all disciples should be purified of all thoughts that relate to seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and discriminating. They should use their minds spontaneously and naturally, without being constrained by preconceived notions arising from the senses.” (The development of spontaneity is, perhaps, the true essence of meditation itself. Once meditated thoroughly, we see as a child – spontaneously, without prejudice).
The Buddha has taught that personal existence is just a name, for it is in fact neither existence nor non-existence. So it only has the name ‘personal existence’.”
“Subhuti – in contemplating that the Universe is endless, and that we live live in one crevice of an infinite number of Universes, is the Universe not vast?”
Subhuti answered, “Vast indeed. If the size of that entity is vast, imagine an ocean of those entities.”
“Subhuti, if a person filled every crevice of this infinite space with compassionate actions, would their merit/decent not be great?”
Subhuti replied, “Very much so, Most Honored One.”
“Subhuti, if after studying and observing even a single stanza of this Sutra, another person were to explain it to others, the happiness and merit that would result from this virtuous act would be far greater.” (Because insight precedes the act of compassion).
“If any person in any place were to teach even four lines of this Sutra, the place where they taught it would become sacred ground and would be revered by all kinds of beings. Imagine their merit if they taught its entirety?”
What will we call this Sutra (this talk)?
The lord Buddha replied, “This Sutra shall be known as
‘The Diamond that Cuts through Illusion’
By this name it shall be revered and studied and observed. What does this name mean? It means that when the Buddha named it, he did not have in mind any definite or arbitrary conception, and so named it. This Sutra is hard and sharp, like a diamond that will cut away all arbitrary conceptions and bring one to the other shore of Enlightenment.”
“What do you think, Subhuti? Has the Buddha taught any definite teaching in this Sutra?”
“No lord, the Buddha has not taught any definite teaching in this Sutra.”
“Subhuti, when the Buddha speaks of the infiniteness of physical reality, it does not mean I am thinking of any definite or arbitrary thought, I am merely using these words as a figure of speech. They are not real, only illusion. It is just the same with the word “physical reality”; these words do not assert any definite or arbitrary idea, I am only using the words as words.”
“Can the Buddha be perceived (recognised) by means of his physical form?”
“No, Most Honored One. The Buddha cannot be perceived by his physical form. Why? Because the Buddha teaches that it is not real but, merely called a form.”
Subhuti was reduced to tears.
if someone hears this Sutra, and has confidence in it, they will have a profound insight into the truth.
This insight will transform into virtue (virtuous acts – selflessness).
Even then, the person will only “say” they have insight into the truth – the truth is a word.
For five hundred years to come (turns out much longer), if there is a person who hears this Sutra (and in saying hearing, he means, understands)…
who receives and retains it with faith and understanding, then that person will be a rare one, a person of most remarkable achievement (and yet, their achievement will only be called achievement – which is a word, a form).
If they continue to hold onto arbitrary conceptions as to their own selfhood, they will be holding onto something that is non-existent. It is the same with all arbitrary conceptions of other selves, living beings, or a universal self. These are all expressions of non-existent things. Buddhas are Buddhas because they have been able to discard all arbitrary conceptions of form and phenomena, they have transcended all perceptions, and have penetrated the illusion of all forms.”
The Buddha replied:
“On hearing this Sutra, don’t tremble, don’t be frightened, or terrified in any way.
Because this teaching is the most perfect teaching – the most transcendent.
“Subhuti, when I talk about the practice of transcendent patience, I do not hold onto any arbitrary conceptions about the phenomena of patience, I merely refer to it as the practice of transcendent patience. Having abandoned the notion of a self, I have abandoned anger, and have abandoned situations which should have induced anger.”
“Also, Subhuti – be patient. It took me hundreds of lifetimes to achieve my current insight.”
“We should leave behind all distinctions of phenomena and awaken the thought of the attainment of Supreme Enlightenment. We should do this by not allowing our mind to depend upon ideas evoked by the world of the senses – by not allowing their mind to depend upon ideas stirred by sounds, odors, flavors, sensory touch, or any other qualities.
The disciple’s mind should be kept independent of any thoughts that might arise within it. If the disciple’s mind depends upon anything in the sensory realm it will have no solid foundation in any reality. This is why Buddha teaches that the mind of a disciple should not accept the appearances of things as a basis when exercising charity (previous references to the futility of charity now come back into focus – it is the highest perfection, but only when the ego is abandoned through this Sutra).
-I will finish this translation in my next blog.
Peace and Blessings – all anger, all pain and all suffering arises from attachment, which arises from the mind, which arises from nothing. – Michael
7 thoughts on “The “Diamond Sutra” – further abridged, for people with limited time. (Chapters 1-14)”
Thank you so incredibly much for sharing this! More of a HIndu, but I always enjoy the precision with which both Buddhism and Vedanta teach. The Buddhas words, although like a cutting scissors, are so full of compassion and reality. This was a perfect start to my morning here in India! Inspired. By the way I am fortunate to live often in the land of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama. Dharamshala!
Thank you Avahan. I will post the rest soon; I want people to be able with a busier life to read this important dialogue … without intimidation.
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I am surprised that Buddha did not define compassion
and charity as they are central premises of the Diamond
Sutra, just as they are central themes of the Bible!
You misunderstood the whole thing 🙂
Also, I find the central theme of the bible to be more: Obey me OR ELSE!
This post opened a quiet hour of contemplation for me, thanks.
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The mind and the vast openness of space are one in the same; no boundaries, no directions, no forms – only the passing phenomena of the human mind, and that which sits behind it – observing silently – that which is our common heritage.