The Diamond Sūtra -

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20-10-2009Diamond Sūtratop pageThe Diamond SūtraTranslated by Charles MullerUpdated: 9/10/04Table of ContentsIntroduction1. Convocation of the Assembly2. Where should practitioners abide mentally, and how should they control their thoughts?3. The Bodhisattva's Vow4. Unattached practice of charity5. Physical Characteristics of Buddhahood6. The merit of true faith7. No attainment, no teaching8. Real merit has no merit9. The four lesser vehicle realizations10. Arousing the pure aspiration without abiding11. Merits of memorizing this sūtra (#1)12. Merits of memorizing this sūtra (#2)13. Naming of the sūtra14. True characteristics are not characteristics15. The sūtra is not for lesser vehicle practitioners16. Purgation through suffering of bad karma17. Defining the bodhisattva18. Physical and mental faculties are unobtainable19. No merit is great merit20. Discerning the Buddha by his body21. No dharma is dharma; non-sentient beings are sentient beings22. The attainability of peerless perfect enlightenment23. The role of good factors24. Merits of transmitting the sūtra: far greater than those of charity25. No sentient beings for the Tathāgata to save26. Trying to discern the Buddha by his bodily characteristics27. Attainment of enlightenment based on bodily characteristics28. Bodhisattvas do not appropriate meritE:/ /Diamond Sutra C Muller.htm1/20

20-10-2009Diamond Sūtra29. The Thus-come One doesn't come or go30. The status of composite things31. Wrapping up the four views32. ConclusionIntroductionThe Diamond Sūtra (Vajracchedika-prajñāpāramitā-sūtra) has maintained a high degreeof popularity in the Mahāyāna Buddhist tradition for over a millenium, especially in East Asia, andmost importantly within the East Asian meditation (Chan/Seon/Zen/Thien) school, where it has beenrecited, taught, and commented on extensively up to the present day. One reason for its popularity isits brevity — it can be chanted in about forty minutes, which means that it is something that anaverage person can memorize without superhuman effort. More important, though, is the basicresonance of the text's message with a core aspect of Chan doctrine/practice — the theme of "nonabiding." Non-abiding, in a Buddhist, and especially a Chan context, refers to the continual practice(i.e., not just while one is sitting in zazen) of being aware of the stoppings and goings of the mind, andavoiding being tricked and ensnared by the web of mental constructs that one continually weaves foroneself. The ongoing proliferation of these deluded constructs has as its causes and conditions notonly in the thought processes in which one is engaged at the present moment, but also the flowingriver one's entire multi-lifetime load of previous karma. And not only one's own karma, but thelinguistic/karmic flow of one's entire culture.A vitally important message of the Diamond Sūtra is that non-abiding should not bemisconstrued as a nihilistic sort of practice. On the other hand, it also does not imply simply givingfree reign to one's thoughts, since then, one is certainly going to get further wrapped up in the denseweb of one's own spinning. Non-abiding necessitates the kind of moment-to-moment attentivenessthat is awesome in its required subtlety. Nonetheless, with just a modicum of experience in meditativepractice, the new student of the Diamond Sūtra will no doubt begin to get some sort of feel for whatis going on in this text. In a sense, it is simple: the thoughts, labels, signs, characteristics, etc., that weassociate with given things, are nothing more than labels, and should not be imputed as the reality ofthe thing in itself, thus becoming reified objects of our desire and dislike. Yet there is also such a thingas thinking and seeing correctly, and it is permissible, nay, necessary, to use these notions, signs, andlabels to function in daily life, and especially to study Buddhism for the aim of attaining enlightenment.Thus, Buddhism (and any other responsible contemplative tradition) cannot condone any attitude thatrecommends negating, or running away from any of the experiences that impinge upon ourE:/ /Diamond Sutra C Muller.htm2/20

20-10-2009Diamond Sūtraconsciousness. Nor can it maintain that there is any such thing as a fixed, or final truth. As theDaodejing says, "The Way that can be taught is not the true Way." Either of these extreme optionsare none other than another form of abiding, or appropriation.Historically speaking, the affinity on the part of the Chinese for a philosophical text that notonly describes non-appropriation, but which also leads the readers through a rigorous exercise of theprocess, can be seen in the degree of popularity that would come to the Diamond Sūtra, which,along with the Heart Sūtra, is one of the few bona fide Indian texts that maintained a high degree ofpopularity in the Chan school after its ascendancy. While other Indian Mahāyāna scriptures andtreatises had described the notions of selflessness and dependent origination at length in an expositorymanner, it can be argued that aside from certain Mādhyamika texts that contained live exercises in thepractice of non-abiding, there is no text in the tradition that focuses so directly in the repeatedformulaic exercise of shaking attachment to linguistic constructs as does the Diamond Sūtra.The message of the Diamond Sūtra, especially in its aim of calling into question the validity ofconceptual labels, overlaps significantly with that of the Heart Sūtra, which went as far as to say "nosuffering, no path. no wisdom, no attainment." This was done to bring home to Buddhist adherentsthe completeness of the doctrine of emptiness, by pointing out that no concept is sacred. Even themost hallowed conceptions in Buddhism: morality, wisdom, enlightenment, dependent origination, areafter all nothing but linguistic constructs, and the Buddhist believer must even get rid of these—withthe same understanding, we might guess, that Meister Eckhart said ".therefore let us pray to Godthat we may may be free of 'God,'" or the famous Chan adage, "If you see the Buddha on the road,kill him."Notes on Sources and PublicationThis translation is based on Kumārajīva's Chinese version of the sūtra, Taishō vol. 8, no. 235.For the source text, I used the digitized version of the text published by Chinese Buddhist ElectronicText Association ( I, like hundreds of others scholars around the world,am deeply indebted to this organization for its pioneering work in text digitization. While doing thistranslation, I also had at my disposal three other previous translations, those by: (1) A. F. Price (TheDiamond Sūtra and the Sūtra of Hui Neng), (2) Thich Nhat Hanh (The Diamond that Cutsthrough Illusion), and (3) Edward Conze (Perfect Wisdom: The Short Prajñāpāramitā Texts).These all seem like dependable translations, although differences can certainly be seen in the way thateach translator chooses to render certain concepts into English prose, even they understand them inbasically the same way.E:/ /Diamond Sutra C Muller.htm3/20

20-10-2009Diamond SūtraThe source document for this translation is marked up in XML according to the guidelines forthe Text Encoding Initiative. Being a digital document that can readily be revised and republished, thistext, like my other online translations, will undoubtedly be reread and revised from time to time. Forthis reason, although any reader is welcome to copy the file to their local system for study, printout,or whatever, I would like to ask you to refrain from republishing it on your own web site, sincereaders would then be deprived of the opportunity to take advantage of any future enhancements.1. Convocation of the Assembly[Chinese Source Text]Thus I have heard. Once, the Buddha was staying in the Jetavana Grove in Śrāvastī with acommunity of 1250 monks. Then, at mealtime, the World Honored One put on his robe, took hisbowl, and went into the great city of Śrāvastī to seek alms food, going from house to house within thecity. Finishing, he returned home and took his meal. He then put away his robe and bowl, washed hisfeet, arranged his seat, and sat down.2. Where should practitioners abide mentally, and how should they controltheir thoughts?[Chinese Source Text]The elder Subhūti, who was in the great assembly, then arose from his seat, stood up, baredhis right shoulder, kneeled down with his right knee, clasped his hands together and respectfullyaddressed the Buddha, saying: "How rare is the World Honored One! The Tathāgata is well mindfulof all the bodhisattvas; he keeps them well in his fold.World Honored One, when good sons andgood daughters seek peerless perfect enlightenment, in what should they abide, and how should theysubdue their thoughts?"The Buddha said, "Excellent! Excellent! Subhūti, it is as you have said. The Tathāgata is wellmindful of all the bodhisattvas, and is skilful at keeping them in his fold. Now you listen well, and Ishall explain it for you.""If good sons and good daughters would like to arouse the mind of peerless perfectenlightenment, they should abide like this and subdue their thoughts like this."The Venerable Subhūti said: "Yes, please do so, World Honored One. We are listening withgreat anticipation."3. The Bodhisattva's VowE:/ /Diamond Sutra C Muller.htm4/20

20-10-2009Diamond Sūtra[Chinese Source Text]The Buddha said to Subhūti: "The bodhisattvas and mahāsattvas should subdue theirthoughts like this: All the different types of sentient beings, whether they be born from eggs, born froma womb, born from moisture or born spontaneously; whether or not they have form; whether theyabide in perceptions or no perceptions; or without either perceptions or non-perceptions, I save themby causing them to enter nirvana without remainder. And when these immeasurable, countless, infinitenumber of sentient beings have been liberated, in actuality, no sentient being has attained liberation.Why is this so? Subhūti, If a bodhisattva abides in the signs of self, person, sentient being, or lifespan, she or he is not a bodhisattva."4. Unattached practice of charity[Chinese Source Text]"Furthermore Subhūti, when bodhisattvas practice charity, they should not abide [in the notionthat they are practicing charity]. This is what is called 'practicing charity while not abiding in form,'and 'practicing charity while not abiding in sound, odor, taste, touch, or conceptions.' Why? Ifbodhisattvas practice charity while not abiding in signs of charity, their merit will be incalculable.Subhūti, what do you think? The space in the easterly direction is incalculable, is it not?""You are right, World Honored One, it is not calculable.""Subhūti, is all of the space in the four cardinal directions, the four intermediate directions, the zenith,and the nadir calculable?""It is incalculable, World Honored One.""Subhūti, the merits attained by bodhisattvas who practice charity without abiding in its signs are alsoincalculable like this. Subhūti, the bodhisattvas need only focus themselves on this teaching."5. Physical Characteristics of Buddhahood[Chinese Source Text]"Subhūti, what do you say? Can one discern the Tathāgata by means of his bodilycharacteristics?""No, World Honored One. One cannot see the Tathāgata by means of bodily characteristics.Why not? The bodily characteristics taught by the Tathāgata are actually not bodily characteristics."The Buddha said to Subhūti: "All things that have characteristics are false and ephemeral. If you seeE:/ /Diamond Sutra C Muller.htm5/20

20-10-2009Diamond Sūtraall characteristics to be non-characteristics, then you see the Tathāgata."6. The merit of true faith[Chinese Source Text]Subhūti addressed the Buddha, saying: "World Honored One, will there be sentient beingswho are able, upon hearing these words and sentences, to give rise to true faith?"The Buddha said to Subhūti, "Do not even say such a thing. Five hundred lifetimes after mypassing away, there will be those who observe moral discipline and cultivate merit, who will be ableto give rise to the mental state of faith and take these words to be the truth. You should know thatthese people have not merely cultivated virtuous roots with one buddha, two buddhas, three, four, orfive buddhas. They have cultivated all kinds of virtuous roots with countless hundreds of thousands ofbuddhas. Hearing these passages, in a single moment they give rise to pure faith. Subhūti, theTathāgata fully knows and fully sees these sentient beings as they attain these countless merits."[Chinese Source Text]Why is this? It is because these sentient beings do not again [abide in] the notions of self,person, sentient being, or life span. Nor do they abide in the notions of the dharma, or the notions ofnon-dharma. Why? If these sentient beings their minds grasp to these notions, then they will cling toself, person, sentient being, and life-span. If they grasp to the notions of phenomena, they will attachto self, person, sentient being, and life span. Why? If they grasp to the denial of phenomena, then theywill attach to self, person, sentient being, and life span. Therefore one should not grasp tophenomena, and one should not deny phenomena. Expressing this, the Tathāgata always teaches:'Monks, understand my correct teachings to be like a raft.' If even my correct teachings are to beabandoned, how much more incorrect teachings?7. No attainment, no teaching[Chinese Source Text]"Subhūti, what do you think? Does the Tathāgata attain peerless perfect enlightenment? Anddoes he have a teaching that he explains?"Subhūti said: "As I understand the implications of what the Buddha has explained, there is nodeterminable phenomenon called peerless perfect enlightenment. And there is also no set teachingthat can be delivered by the Tathāgata. Why? The teachings explained by the Tathāgata can neitherbe appropriated nor explained. There is neither a teaching nor a non-teaching. How can this be?