The Urban Dharma Newsletter - July 27, 2004


In This Issue: Buddhism & The Diamond Sutra

1. The Hungry Monk
2. A Short History of Diamonds
3. Johannes Gutenberg and The Printed Book
4. The Historical Background of Woodblock Printing in Tibet
5. The Translator of the Chinese version of the Diamond Sutra
6. The Diamond Cutter/The Diamond Sutra
4. Temple/Center/Website: None
5. Book/CD/Movie: The Diamond Sutra: The Perfection of Wisdom
- by Red Pine


Hi, Starting in August, 2004 the Urban Dharma Newsletter will be sent the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month... The format will stay the same... Be Well and Happy... Thank You, Kusala

1. The Hungry Monk

Once there was a monk who was an expert on the Diamond Sutra, and as books were very valuable in his day, he carried the only copy in his part of the world on his back. He was widely sought after for his readings and insight into the Diamond Sutra, and very successful at propounding its profundities to not only monks and masters but to the lay people as well. Thus the people of that region came to know of the Diamond Sutra, and as the monk was traveling on a mountain road, he came upon an old woman selling tea and cakes.

The hungry monk would have loved to refresh himself, but alas, he had no money. He told the old woman, "I have upon my back a treasure beyond knowing -- the Diamond Sutra. If you will give me some tea and cakes, I will tell you of this great treasure of knowledge."

The old woman knew something of the Diamond Sutra herself, and proposed her own bargain. She said, "Oh learned monk, if you will answer a simple question, I will give you tea and cakes." To this the monk readily agreed. The woman then said, "When you eat these cakes, are you eating with the mind of the past, the mind of the present or the mind of the future?"

No answer occurred to the monk, so he took the pack from his back and got out the text of the Diamond Sutra, hoping he could find the answer. As he studied and pondered, the day grew late and the old woman packed up her things to go home for the day.

"You are a foolish monk indeed," said the old woman as she left the hungry monk in his quandary. "You eat the tea and cakes with your mouth."

2. A Short History of Diamonds


Since the very beginning, diamonds have been associated with romance and legend...

Diamonds were discovered in India around 600 BC. Although these deposits did not produce large amounts they were the world's only major source of diamonds for more than 2 thousand years, yielding some of histories most famous gems. Understandably, the oldest and richest imagery comes from India, where diamonds figure prominently in Hindu traditions. Diamond was also an important symbol in Buddhism, the other great religion of India. Besides meaning "diamond" and "thunderbolt" the sanskrit word 'vajra' denotes perfect peace of mind, spiritual balance, clarity of thought, and unlimited insight. The world's oldest printed book, containing what it says are the hardest teachings to penetrate, is called the Diamond Sutra.

The ancient Greeks believed that diamonds were splinters of stars fallen to the earth. It was even said by some that they were the tears of the Gods. Until the 15th century only kings wore diamonds as a symbol of strength, courage and invincibility. Over the centuries, however, the diamond acquired its unique status as the ultimate gift of love. The very word 'diamond' comes from the Greek 'adamas' meaning unconquerable, suggesting the eternity of love.

3. Johannes Gutenberg and The Printed Book


The earliest dated printed book, known as the Diamond Sutra, was produced in China in 868 CE, but it is believed that the practice dates back well before this date. The Japanese and the Chinese regularly used wood blocks carved in relief to produce Buddhist charms as early as the fifth century CE. Nearly six centuries later Europeans began block printing--whether or not this was influenced by examples from the orient or an independent development is not certain--for religious illustrations and playing cards. By the mid-fifteenth century the practice had expanded to include works such as Emblem Books. Block-printed publications were largely made up of illustrations with short captions and thus amenable to the wood block process which tended to favour the pictorial. The literate classes depended largely on hand-copied manuscripts.

The literary world was changed with the invention of movable type and its application to a series of known practices which were integrated into a method of mass production. The printing press had developed from the wine press in the Rhine Valley. It was there in 1440 that Johannes Gutenberg (c.1397-1468) began using the printing press in conjunction with a series of blocks each bearing a single letter on its face. The press used by Gutenberg was a hand press, in which ink was rolled over the raised surfaces of hand-set letters held within a wooden form and the form was then press against a sheet of paper. Gutenberg's name does not appear on any of his work but he is generally accredited with the world's first book printed with movable type, the 42-line (the number of lines per page) Bible, also known as the Gutenberg Bible or the Mainz Bible (for the place where it was produced).

In three decades, printing spread across Europe where it became one of the chief means by which the Renaissance, the humanist re-birth of interest in learning and the classics, was transmitted from culture to culture. In time the printed book became a means of political revolution, the necessary technological corollary for the rise of the vernacular (ie. non-Latin) as a vehicle for literary texts, and the larger democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century.

In 1814, The Times of London introduced the first steam-press. Other technological innovations, such as linotype, invented in 1884 by Ottmar Mergentahler, and the monotype machine, first used in 1897, helped increase the ease with which a page could be type-set. Together, these new methods of mass production helped pave the way to the growth of a mass reading public, a public which finally wrested literature from the closed circles of the educated and wealthy. This revolution entailed not simply a change in the world of literature but, as Marshall McLuhan wrote, a change in consciousness itself.

4. The Historical Background of Woodblock Printing in Tibet


The historical background of practice of printing within Tibetan community is closely related with the invention of woodblock printing in china and its expansion to Asian countries. Paper, also like printing, had its origin in China. And these two things are closely connected. Tibetan culture adopted these technique from their neighbors along with many other disciplines. So for reaching the historical back ground of these practice we have to look back at the beginning and development of wood block printing in China.

The earliest printed book ‘Diamond Sutra’ was found in china. It was printed in 868 AD., by wood block printing method. But the degree of perfection in printing we see in ‘Diamond Sutra’ manuscript reveals a long way of effort and experimentation necessary for reaching that stage (1).

In China the confusion scholars started to inscribe texts in stone since in 206-220 AD. In Han dynasty. The use of seal was common before that time. The Chinese word ‘Yin’ stands for seal means for clay to paper. The use of it was mentioned in 255 BC. These were made of many kind of material and the impressions were perfect, but the impressions were often inkless, generally taken on clay. Before 55 AD. Seals were often in white on red creating the illusion of an intaglio impression or vice versa - the relief manner. Around 175-83 BC., Confucian and Taoist classics began to cut in the stone and prints from those were taken by ink rubbing.

The process of taking print was to put a sheet of thin, strong moistened paper on the stone, and applying pressure by a stiff brush so that the paper touch the lower surface (inscribed area) of the stone. After the paper became dried a pad of cloth, usually silk or cotton soaked well in sized ink was passed over it. The ink was absorbed in non-engraved areas of the stone. When the paper was taken away from the stone, it showed the text in white on the black back ground.

The annals of the late Han dynasty (206 BC-2211 AD.) record the fact that the engraved stone tablets of the six classics, was kept at the entrance of the Imperial academy. People came there for copy it by the process of rubbing.

First cutting of images and character into woodblocks happened in Tang dynasty (618AD.-966AD.). Mainly these were religious doctrines -Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and Christian. In 7th century AD. experimentation in Buddhist monasteries took place. This included various types of Buddha stamps, textile prints, stencils etc. These printing were performed for devotional purpose. Mahayana Buddhist made their theology with thousand Buddhas. Beside the human Buddha Sakyamuni Gautama, son of Suddhodhana, the chief of Sakya tribe, who was born 2500 years ago, who was a historical character - these thousand Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas are images of enlightened beings, the saviour of mankind. For visualizing the innumerable Buddha images, the monk-artists took the chance of printmaking. Countless images of Buddha were found printed on paper on scrolls. One such scroll is kept in British museum display 480 impressions of the same image in 17 ft. long scroll.

In the Book by T.F. Center named ‘Invention of printing in China and its spread west ward,’ we found the earliest known authentic block print dates from 770 AD. came from Japan. These were one million charms in Sanskrit and Chinese characters (2).

At last 868 AD. Buddhist monastery in tun Huang cave in Chinese Turkistan ‘Diamond Sutra’ earliest known dated block book printed . It was dedicated "for universal free distribution by Wang Chieh to perpetuate the memory of his parents. In 1907 Sir Aurelstein discovered Tun Huang cave which was founded in 366 AD. He found 1500 scrolls, texts and books among with Diamond sutra in a manuscript chamber sealed during the 10th century (3).

Tun huang scrolls especially the diamond sutra is an example of transformation of a scroll to book. A little sutra of 8 pages printed on one side and folded like a modern day folder. Some western scholars who have put much emphasis on John Guttenberg as pioneer of printing do not consider Eastern civilization as cradle of printing According to their viewpoint the invention of movable type is the beginning of printing, But one thing we must keep in mind that in East Asia specially china using movable type was not very economical because the Chinese had 40,000 characters in their writing where the Europeans had merely a few alphabets. However the Chinese also invented movable type before European at 1041 AD. Bi Sheng invented this. Around 1200 AD. moveable type was widely used in Korea(4).

American Scholar T.F. Carter wrote in his book ‘The invention of printing and its spread westward’-For printing and the invention of printing is the invention of that form of printing which transform the education and culture of nation"(5).

This was the beginning, of printing manuscript and it continued. So as the result of this continuities Tibetan community also inherited this process for duplicating their sacred texts.

The another important factor in printing books or scrolls is the surface for printing : The paper. Paper also was first made in China. Before inventing the paper various materials were used for writing propose. In India Birch bark was used for manuscripts. But in China birch bark never had been used for writing purpose. Other materials such as animal bones, tortoise shells, stone, clay, wood, bamboo, metal, silk had been widely used. At 105 AD Tsai Lun invented the manufacture of paper. It was Han dynasty (200BC.-200AD.), when the rise of burocracy demanded the need of writing materials. Tsai Lun made paper from rags and raw fibers. After invention of paper gradually it became a very popular writing material and by end of 5th century all Central Asia started to use paper. This way from China the knowledge of paper making introduced to Tibet. But after 1200 AD. , technically we see no sign of development. Still now Tibetan papermakers follow the same process from the beginning time. The craft of paper making introduced to Tibet influenced areas like Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan, Ladakh at 1000 AD.Tamang horse riders who had been spread over these Himalayan countries, since 700 AD.- were possibly bearer of this technology(6).

The next important thing is the printing ink. This was earlier used at 100 BC. ( Shung period). The Chinese made black ink of burnt wood on lacquer mixed with glue and formed into a paste or brick, which is soluble in water. Cinnabar red was also used and it was widely used besides black.

The wood for making the block was usually pear or jujbe. The wooden plank was clear cut, the surface of the plank very careful flattened and sized with rice flour paste.

Though the use of paper was introduced to Tibet earlier, manuscript from that time we found is hand written.

In 1334 the compilation of ‘KANJUR’ (Translation of the words of Buddha) and TENJUR (Translation of treatise) ended. Kanjur contains 4500 works. This huge task was performed by great Tibetan scholar Bu-Ston (1290Ad.-1364AD.). A master copy of Tenjur was deposited at Zhalu monastery between Shigatse and Syantse.

In 1410 one edition of Kanjur was printed in Peking. It was the first printed Tibetan manuscript So we may assume from that time practice of printing introduced to Tibetan community. Later we see printing presses in all large monasteries of Tibet and Himalayan countries. But it is very difficult to find any distinct historical record of these presses and its activities throughout the centuries.

One reason behind it may be that the total emphasis of the printing process was on making sacred texts and ritual oriented objects ( such as banner, images, diagram etc). And it had so strong ritualistic purpose in its formation, that it was never considered as a separate discipline to study. So the user of it remained more or less unaware of its historical importance from technical or artistic view point.

5. The Translator of the Chinese version of the Diamond Sutra


Dharma Master Kumarajiva (343-413)

The text of the Diamond Sutra appearing in the last two issues of the Buddhist Door was based on the famous Chinese version of the Sutra. This famous Chinese version of the Sutra was translated into Chinese around 403 from the original Sanskrit by the great Dharma Master, Kumarajiva. Since then, this Chinese translation had become one of the most popular Buddhist texts, and together with the famous Chinese version of the Lotus Sutra, also translated into Chinese from Sanskrit by Kumarajiva, was considered one of the most authoritative presentations of the Mahayana Buddhism.

Kumarajiva is considered one of the greatest translators of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into Chinese. He was from Kucina (Kucha) of Central Asia (today's Kuche of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China) and the Indian-Kuchan parentage. His father, Kumarayapa, born into a Brahman family in India, refused to inherit a high position in the government and left the family to travel as a mendicant. When he was in Kucina, a small country in Central Asia, he was made the National Master by the king there. Kumarayapa was then forced by the king to marry the king's sister, Jiva. Kumarayapa and Jiva had two children, Kumarajiva and his brother.

The word 'kumarajiva' in Sanskrit means 'mature youth'. It was said that Kumarajiva possessed the virtuous conduct of the elder even when he was very young. Kumarajiva was most famed for his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Indian and Vedantic learning and the photographic memory of the Buddhist scriptures. The legend said that he was able to recite the complete Lotus Sutra in two days, and one thousand mantras with total of 36,000 words in one day.

Later on, Jiva decided to leave the family, and when Kumarajiva was seven years old, she became a bhiksuni (nun) while her son followed her as a young monk. They travelled to different countries and studied from various famous monks. At the age of twelve, he returned to Kucina together with his mother. During those years, he made thorough studies of various Buddhist scriptures and at such young age, started preaching and became well-known in the Buddhist world. He was most famed for his understanding of Nagarjuna's Buddhist school of the Madhyamika ("Middle Way"). At the age of twenty, he was officially made a bhiksu in the Kucha palace. Shortly afterwards, his mother left for India and she instructed him to go to China and preach Buddhism there. Kumarajiva stayed in Kucina for twenty years and made some very thorough studies in Buddhism.

In the year 379, a few Chinese monks returned to Changan (Xian) from Kucina and told the story about the young bhiksu Kumarajiva. The great Dharma Master Daoan, who was very enthusiastic in translating Buddhist scriptures, recommended to Fujian, the Emperor of Fu-Qin Dynasty to get Kumarajiva to China to carry out the Buddhism sutras translation activities. In the year 382, Fujian sent Luguang to conquer some Central Asian countries, and instructed Luguang to capture Kumarajiva once Kucina could be occupied and to send Kumarajiva to China as soon as possible.

In the year 384, Kucina was occupied. But Luguang, being not a Buddhist himself, found out that Kumarajiva was so young, and had difficulty to recognize the abilities of Kumarajiva. Next year, Fujian was murdered and Luguang made himself Emperor of Liangzhou. Due to all these events, Kumarajiva ended up staying in Liangzhou for seventeen years.

In the year 401, the new Emperor of Fu-Qin, Yaoxing, recaptured Liangzhou and eventually brought Kumarajiva to China. Kumarajiva was 58 years old when he came to Changan. Starting from 402, Kumarajiva began to take on one of the most important Buddhist scriptures translation tasks in history.

His first attempt was in the Amitabha Buddha Sutra and a few other Buddhist scriptures. Then he translated the Maharatnakuta Sutra-Upadesha and the Shatika-Shastra. In the following year, he re-translated the complete Mahaprajnaparamita-Sutra, which includes, among many other scriptures, the Diamond Sutra. The whole translation task actually involved more than 500 monks as his assistants in the verification and editing work. Kumarajiva double-checked all texts in the Mahaprajnaparamita-Sutra. During the following year (404) he translated the majority of the Sarvastivadin-Vinaya and reworked on the Shatika-Shastra.

Starting from 406, Kumarajiva settled in the Grand Temple in Changan and translated the most important sutras in Mahayana Buddhism - the Lotus Sutra and the Vimalakirti-Nivdesa-Sutra. He also finished translation on Dvadashamukha-Shastra. His last translation was the Satyasiddhi-Shastra. He was also involved in preaching during the intensive routines of the translation jobs.

Kumarajiva was a genius in language and literature. For instance, he also wrote the commentary of the Vimalakirti-Nivdesa-Sutra, which has a tremendous impact in the Chinese literature. Among all the translators working in China, he was probably the best in the Chinese language.

In April 413, he died at the age of 71 in the Grand Temple in Changan. His last words were that he remembered he had translated about 300 texts in Buddhism and believed that other than the Sarvastivadin-Vinaya which had not passed review and editing, he could guarantee that all his translations should be correct and could be used for spreading Buddhism. In order to prove such a statement, he claimed that when his body was incinerated after his death, the tongue would remain intact. It turned out that his claim was true. According to Tang-San-Zang, the complete works of Kumarajiva include 35 Sutras/Vinayas/Shastras, covering 294 texts.

Kumarajiva's achievement in Buddhist scriptures translation is tremendous. He was the first one who systematically translated from Sanskrit into Chinese, the Mahayana Buddhist scriptures, with emphasis on Nagarjuna's Madhyamika. His translation style is also among the best accepted by the Chinese. He is most famed for those translations which have important literary values (such as Vimalakirti-Nivdesa-Sutra, the Lotus Sutra and the Maharatnakuta Sutra-Upadesha). In fact, his translation is recognized as having a significant position in the Chinese literature.

The translation organization headed by Kumarajiva in Changan is one of the biggest in Chinese history. It was fully sponsored by the government and the court and marks the beginning of the tradition in establishing a national translation centre. Numerous famous monks and scholars came over to Changan from various parts of China to participate in the translation tasks. In addition, some foreign monks from the Central Asian countries also joined the teams there, working under Kumarajiva. It was said that there were as many as 3000 followers, including assistants and students, of Kumarajiva. All the translation jobs were carried out with the utmost carefulness and seriousness and whenever necessary, with the consultations of specialists from the relevant fields of expertise. No wonder the results of the translations were of such a high standard, which can be well demonstrated by the achievement in the Diamond Sutra and the Lotus Sutra.

6. The Diamond Cutter/The Diamond Sutra



I became interested in The Diamond Sutra after reading a short post on soc.religion.eastern. The post described a paradox so confusing, i was drawn to investigate further. This version is taken mostly word-for-word from a book published by Concord Grove Press (Copyright 1983), however, my notes are in brackets and all the flowery language is cut out. If you want to read about, "The Venerable Wonderous Lord Buddha," read a different translation. That which is called Buddha, is called Buddha. -- Josh Pritikin


Buddha once dwelt in Anathapindika's Park, in the Jeta Grove at Sravasti, with 1,250 monks and many Bodhisattvas (external link). Near dawn, Buddha clothed himself, took up his bowl and entered the great city of Sravasti to collect food offered as alms. Having returned and eaten, Buddha put away his bowl and cloak, bathed his feet, and sat with legs crossed and body upright upon the seat arranged for him, mindfully fixing attention in front of himself. Many monks approached Buddha, showing great reverence, and seated themselves about him.

A monk called Subhuti arose from his seat in the midst of the monks and, showing great respect for Buddha, said: "It is wonderful how much Buddha has helped the Bodhisattvas. How should men and women who set out on the Bodhisattva Path progress, and how should they control their thoughts?"

Lead all beings to nirvana

Buddha replied: "Listen carefully. All Bodhisattvas should hold this thought: Every kind of create which can be called a 'being', egg-born, formed in a womb, born from moisture or produced by metamorphosis, or with form or without, all these I guide towards Nirvana even though no being at all has been led to Nirvana.

"Why? If in a Bodhisattva the conception of 'being', 'egotistic entity', 'personality' or 'separate existence' should take place, this Bodhisattva would not be an authentic being of wisdom and compassion.

Practice virtue

"A Bodhisattva should practice virtue without regard to appearances, unsupported by sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations or mental attachments. A Bodhisattva should practice virtue without attachment to externals. Why? This is the way to being Buddha."

Tathagata's phenomenal attributes

Buddha then asked Subhuti, "But what do you think? Can the Tathagata be recognized by any phenomenal attribute?"

"No, Buddha. Why? Because the Tathagata has taught that the possession of phenomenal attributes is in fact non-possession of any phenomenal attributes."

Buddha elaborated: "Where there is possession of phenomenal attributes, there is delusion; where there is non-possession of any phenomenal attributes, there is no delusion. The Tathagata is therefore recognized by the attribute of having no phenomenal attributes."

Ask about future

Subhuti then asked Buddha: "In the future, in the last five centuries when the way is obscured, will any beings understand the truth of these teachings?"

Buddha answered: "Do not say this, Subhuti! Even then, in the remote future, there will be beings who will understand the truth when these words are taught. There will even then be Bodhisattvas meritorious in conduct, practised in virtue and full of wisdom who will understand the truth when they hear these teachings. Such Bodhisattvas, Subhuti, will not have honoured one Buddha alone, nor will they have rooted their merit under just one Buddha. Rather, these Bodhisattvas, who will find serene faith awakened upon hearing the words of this teaching, will have honoured and rooted themselves in merit under countless Buddhas. They are known to the Tathagata through his Buddha-thought; they are seen by the Tathagata with his Buddha-eye. Hence they are fully known to the Tathagata, and they will all acquire and produce inestimable merit.

"And why? Because, Subhuti, these Bodhisattvas will have no perception of an egotistic self, neither of a separate entity nor of a soul, no perception of a personality. Nor will they even have a perception of dharma (external link) or adharma (external link) , for in them there will be neither perception nor non-perception.

Explain dharma

"How can this be? If these Bodhisattvas, Subhuti, should perceive either dharma or adharma, they would think of an ego, a separate entity, a soul or a personality. Therefore the Tathagata has taught this saying with a hidden meaning: 'Those who know that the teachings about dharma are like a raft, should renounce dharma and, even more, renounce adharma.'"

Buddha asked: "Do you think, Subhuti, that the Tathagata knows any dharma as the ultimate and perfect enlightenment? Has the Tathagata ever set forth such a teaching?"

Subhuti reponded: "Not according to my understanding of the teachings of the Tathagata. Why? The dharma which the Tathagata fully knows and has set forth can neither be thought nor formulated in words, for it is neither dharma nor adharma."

Merit is non-merit

"What do you think, Subhuti," Buddha asked, "if a man or woman filled a thousand million worlds with the seven treasures and made a gift of them to the Tathagata, would they accumulate inestimable merit?"

Subhuti answered: "The merit accrued would be beyond reckoning. Why? Because the Tathagata has taught that such merit is non-merit."

One who has entered the stream

"What do you think, Subhuti," Buddha asked, "does a one who has entered the stream which flows to enlightenment, say 'I have entered the stream'?"

"No, Buddha", Subhuti replied. "For he has won no dharma and therefore he is called one who has entered the stream. No objects of sight or hearing have been won, no smells or tastes, no objects of touch nor even objects of mind. Thus he is called one who has entered the stream. If the thought 'the fruit of entering the stream has been attained by me' occurred to such a one, then he would be seizing upon a self, or personality, a soul or a concept of being."

One who must return once

Buddha asked: "Subhuti, do you think that one who has to return but once again, even entertains the thought 'the fruit of a once-returner is mine'?"

"No Buddha," Subhuti replied. "For nothing ultimately real has won the status of a once-returner: that is why he is called once-returner."

One who will not return

"Do you think", Buddha asked, "that the one who will not return at all, ever thinks 'the fruit of the never-returner is mine'?"

"No, Buddha," Subhuti answered. "For nothing which can be considered ultimately real has won the status of never-returner'."

One who is fully enlightened

"Then," Buddha asked, "does the fully enlightened one, ever think, 'full enlightenment is mine'?"

"Indeed not," Subhuti answered, "for nothing ultimately real is called fully enlightened, and that is why one who is fully enlightened is called fully enlightened. If one who is fully enlightened ever thought 'the fruit of being fully enlightened is mine', he would grasp a self, a personality, a soul or a concept of being."

Dharma is non-dharma

"Do you think, Subhuti," Buddha then asked, "there is any dharma or attainment which the Tathagata acquired from the fully enlightened one?"

"No, not one," Subhuti replied.

Perfection is non-perfection

Buddha said: "If a Bodhisattva declared 'I perfect serene Buddha-fields (external link)', his words would be false. Why? Because the Tathagata has taught that the perfection of serene Buddha-fields is non-perfection. Thus the Tathagata speaks of serene Buddha-fields.

"The Bodhisattva should develop a thought which is in no way dependent upon sights, sounds, smells tastes, tactile sensations or mental objects.

Existence is non-existence

"Suppose, Subhuti, a man had an enormous body, like Sumeru, the king of mountains. Would the sense of personal existence he had also be enormous?"

"Yes, indeed, Buddha," Subhuti answered. "His sense of personal existence would be enormous. But the Tathagata has taught that personal existence is no-existence, for it is in fact neither existence nor non-existence. So it is called 'personal existence'."

Summarize the teaching on dharma

Subhuti asked Buddha: "What is this teaching on dharma and how shall it be remembered?"

Buddha answered: "This teaching, Subhuti, is known as Prajnaparamita, the perfection of wisdom, and you should remember it as such. Yet the very discourse the Tathagata has taught as 'the perfection of wisdom' is exactly the teaching which is not the perfection of wisdom. Thus it is only called Prajnaparamita.

"Do you think, Subhuti, that the Tathagata has taught any special dharma?"

"No, Buddha," Subhuti answered, "not at all!"


Subhuti, hearing this discourse on dharma, understood it and was moved to tears. He spoke:

"Buddha! The teaching of the Tathagata regarding dharma is most precious. Through it, Buddha-cognition has arisen in me. Never have I witnessed such a teaching! Blessed are those who when this discourse is taught, have true perception. Yet true perception is in fact no perception, though the Tathagata teaches true perception.

"When this discourse on dharma is being taught, it is easy for me to accept and believe it. But in future days, when the teaching wanes, beings will listen to this teaching, retain it, ponder it, and illuminate it for others, and they will be blessed indeed. For in them no sense of self, no conception of an entity, no perception of personality, will exist. A sense of self is no sense, in truth, a conception of being is no conception, and a perception of personality is no perception. The Buddhas have transcended all perceptions!"

Buddha said: "It is as you say, Subhuti. Blessed indeed are those beings who do not tremble with fear or awe when they hear this teaching. The Tathagata has taught parama paramita, the supreme perfection. And this teaching of the Tathagata is also the teaching of countless Buddhas.

"Further, Subhuti, the perfection of patience taught by the Tathagata is in reality no perfection. Why? When the Raja of Kalinga mutilated my body, I had at that time no sense of self, no conception of a being, no perception of personality. If such a conception or perception had arisen at that time, anger and hatred would have arisen in me. But for five hundred lives I have been a sage suffused with patience, having no sense of self, no conception of being, no perception of personality.

Practice virtue

"A Bodhisattva, once he has relinquished all perceptions, raises his thought to the enlightenment. He releases a thought free of form, sound, smell, taste, touch or mental activity, free even from dharma and adharma, for all such supporting conditions are in reality no support at all. Hence the Tathagata teaches: virtue should be practised by a Bodhisattva who relies on no supporting conditions.

"A Bodhisattva should practise virtue in this way for the welfare of all beings. And yet, the perception of a being, Subhuti, is no perception. All those beings just spoken of are in fact no beings. The Tathagata does not speak falsely, but rather speaks the truth, in accord with reality. Yet the dharma which the Tathagata has attained and now illuminates for others is neither real nor unreal.

Renouncing virtue

"A Bodhisattva who is attached to conceptions and perceptions, and who renounces virtue, is like a man groping in the dark. A Bodhisattva who is free from conceptions and perceptions, and who renounces virtue, is like a man whose eyes see all things clearly in the bright morning sun."

Interlude 2

Buddha said: "Those good men and women who will take up this teaching on dharma, who will think on it, recite it, study it, and who will illuminate the whole of it for others, they are known to the Tathagata. He recognizes them by his Buddha-cognition and perceives them with his Buddha-eye. These good beings will each bring to fruitation immeasurable and incalculable merit.

"I recollect through my Buddha-cognition, Subhuti, that in the remote past, aeons before the supremely enlightened one, I faultlessly served millions of Buddhas throughout incalculable ages. Nevertheless, the merit gained by those who take up, remember, study, recite and explain to others this discourse in the future, when the way is obscured, will surpass the merit gained in the service I rendered to all Buddhas millions of times over. Their merit has no number; it is incalculable and incomparable.

"If I were to teach just how vast this merit which will be gained in the future is, Subhuti, good men and women who hear me would become confused, mentally disturbed and even frantic. But since the Tathagata has taught that this discourse on dharma is inconceivable, an incommensurable karmic fruit should be expected from it."

Lead all beings to nirvana 2

Subhuti asked: "How, Buddha, does one who seeks the Bodhisattva Path tread it?"

Buddha answered: "One who sets out on the Bodhisattva Path should continuously think, 'I must lead all brings to absolute Nirvana; nevertheless, even when all beings have been led to Nirvana, no being in reality has been led to Nirvana.' For if the idea of a being, entity or personality should arise in him, he is not a Bodhisattva. He who has set out on the Bodhisattva Path is not one of the dharmas.

"Do you think, Subhuti, that when the Tathagata was with the enlightened one there was any dharma by which he came to know supreme enlightenment?"

"There was not," Subhuti answered, "any dharma by which the Tathagata has known supreme enlightenment."

"For this reason," Buddha said, "'Tathagata signifies attributelessness, and if someone were to say, 'The Tathagata has fully known supreme enlightenment. The dharma of the Tathagata is neither real nor unreal. Hence the Tathagata teaches that all dharmas are the Buddha's own special dharmas. Why? The Tathagata has taught that all dharmas together are no dharma named 'Bodhisattva'?"

"No, Buddha," Subhuti answered.

"Thus," Buddha continued, "the Tathagata teaches that all dharmas are selfless and are not beings, entities or personalities. Even if a Bodhisattva wished to create tranquil Buddha-fields, he should not be called a Bodhisattva, for the Tathagata has taught that tranquil Buddha-fields are not really tranquil Buddha-fields.

"Subhuti, the Bodhisattva who continually swells on the selflessness of all dharmas, however, is known by the Tathagata, the supremely enlightened one, as a Bodhisattva of Great Courage."

What does the tathagata see?

Buddha asked Subhuti: "What do you think? Does the Tathagata possess the physical eye?"

"Yes, Buddha," Subhuti replied.

"Does the Tathagata possess the divine eye of enlightenment?"

"Surely, Buddha, the Tathagata possesses it."

"Does the Tathagata possess the eye of transcendental wisdom, Subhuti?"

"Indeed he does, Buddha."

"Does the Tathagata possess the dharma eye?"

"Yes, Buddha."

"And, Subhuti, does the Tathagata possess the Buddha-eye of universal compassion?"

"Without doubt, Buddha, the Tathagata possesses all these eyes."

Comments on the mind

"Subhuti, I know the mind of every sentient being in all the host of universes, regardless of any modes of thought, conceptions or tendencies. For all modes, conceptions and tendencies of thought are not mind. And yet they are called 'mind'. Why? It is impossible to retain past thought, to seize future thought and even to hold present thought."

Form is no-form

"Is the Tathagata to be seen," Buddha asked, "in the manifestation of his form?"

"Indeed not," Subhuti replied, "for the Tathagata has taught that the manifestation of his form is no manifestation, even though it is called 'the manifestation of his form'."

The Buddha said: "Does the Tathagata think, 'I have demonstrated dharma'? If anyone says, 'The Tathagata has demonstrated dharma', he speaks falsely, for he misunderstands the Tathagata by grabbing at what is not there. There is no dharma which could be taught as a demonstration of dharma."

Being is non-being

Subhuti asked: "in the distant future when the way is obscured, will there be beings who, upon hearing these dharmas, will believe them?"

"Subhuti," Buddha replied, "they would be neither beings not non-beings, for the Tathagata has taught that beings are not in truth beings, even though he has called them 'beings'.

Summary of dharma

"Do you think, Subhuti," Buddha asked, "there is any dharma by which the Tathagata has known supreme enlightenment?"

"There is no such dharma, Buddha."

"Thus, Subhuti, no atom of dharma is to be found. Therefore, enlightenment is called supreme. This dharma is identical only with itself, and is undifferentiated. Therefore it is called 'supreme enlightenment'. Being unique and undifferentiated because of the absence of a self, entity or personality, this supreme enlightenment is known as the collectivity of all good dharmas. But Subhuti, the Tathagata has taught that dharmas are not in truth dharmas, even though they are called 'dharmas'.

"Does a Tathagata ever think, 'I have liberated beings'? Never imagine this, Subhuti, for there is no being to be liberated by the Tathagata. If the Tathagata thought to liberate any being, a concept of self, entity or personality would have arisen in him. The Tathagata has taught that the concept of self is no concept. Nevertheless, common people cling to the concept of self. The Tathagata has taught that the common people are not common people, even though they are called 'common people'."

Who sees me by form, Who sees me in sound, Perverted are his footsteps upon the way; For he cannot perceive the Tathagata. The Buddhas are seen through dharma, From dharma-bodies their guidance comes; But the nature of dharma is never discerned, It cannot be grasped by the mind alone.

Examples of misinterpretation

The Buddha said: "No one should say, 'Those who set out upon the Bodhisattva Path presume the annihilation of a dharma', for it is not so, Subhuti. Those who tread the Bodhisattva Path do not presume the annihilation of any dharma.

"Suppose, Subhuti, that a man or woman filled with the seven treasures as many galaxies as there are grains of sand in the great Ganges, and then offered them all to the Tathagatas; and suppose a Bodhisattva patiently forbore all dharmas, which in themselves have no essence. This Bodhisattva would gain an immeasurably greater merit. And yet a Bodhisattva should gain no merit."

"But would not, Buddha," Subhuti asked, "a Bodhisattva gain much merit?"

"He would gain it, Subhuti, but he should not grasp it."

Buddha continued: "If anyone says that the Tathagata comes or goes, sits or reclines, he fails to understand my teaching. Why? The Tathagata has neither whence nor whither, and therefore he is called the supremely enlightened one'.

"If a man or woman took a galaxy for every particle of dust in this vast galaxy and thoroughly ground each one until it was reduced to atoms, would the heap of atoms be great?"

"Indeed, Buddha," Subhuti answered, "the heap of atoms would be immense. And yet this enormous heap of atoms is not really a heap of atoms, even though it is called 'a heap of atoms'.

"Further, although the Tathagata has said 'galaxy', he teaches that it is not in truth a galaxy. For, Buddha, if there were in truth a galaxy, it would be a material object to be seized upon, and the Tathagata has taught that there is no seizing at all."

"Indeed, Subhuti," Buddha said, "this 'seizing upon a material object' is a convention of language, an expression devoid of real content. It is neither dharma nor adharma, even though ordinary people have seized upon it foolishly.

"Suppose, Subhuti, that someone said that the Tathagata has taught a conception of a self, an entity or a personality. Would he be right?"

Subhuti answered: "Not at all, Buddha. That which the Tathagata has called 'a conception of self' is no conception."

"Therefore, Subhuti," Buddha said, "one who has set out on the Bodhisattva Path should know all dharma and view them intently. Yet he should know them and view them in a way which does not give rise to a perception of any dharma. Why? The Tathagata has taught that perception of a dharma is no perception, even though it is called 'perception of a dharma'.


"If even a Bodhisattva of Great Courage filled innumerable galaxies with the seven precious treasures, and offered them as a gift to the supremely enlightened ones, his merit would not compare with the immeasurable merit of a good man or woman who took just one stanza from this Prajnaparamita discourse on dharma and remembered, recited, studied and illuminated it for others. How is this done? In a way which is free from appearances. Thus one illuminates it for others."

Like a meteor, like darkness, as a flickering lamp, An illusion, like hoar-frost or a bubble, Like clouds, a flash of lightning, or a dream: So is all conditioned existence to be seen.

Thus spoke Buddha.

7. The Diamond Sutra: The Perfection of Wisdom - by Red Pine


Amazon.com - Reviewer: Washington, D.C. --- The Diamond Sutra is a spiritual treasure and a key text of Mahayana Buddhism. Estimates for its date of composition range from the second century B.C. to the third century A.D. The original texts are in Chinese and Sanskrit. There are two related explanations for the title "Diamond Sutra": 1. the teaching of the sutra cuts through diamonds or 2. the sutra itself is the diamond that in its radiance and strength cuts through and illuminates everything. The text consists of 32 chapters (the chapter divisions are not in the original sources) and about 30 pages. The Diamond Sutra is one of the few texts of whatever type that will repay endless study and which can transform the life of the receptive reader.

Red Pine has produced a translation and commentary on the Diamond Sutra which help greatly in exploring it. The organization of the book bears discussing. The book opens with a translation of the sutra, unadorned by commentary, which consists of about 30 pages. The translation is followed by a Preface in which Red Pine gives some background on the text and on Buddhism, sketches out his interpretation of the text, and explains to the reader how he came to the Diamond Sutra over the years.

The longest section of the book consists of a commentary of about 400 pages arranged in 32 sections, one for each chapter of the Diamond Sutra. Each section begins with the text of the Chapter followed by Red Pine's commentary on the chapter as a whole. He then reproduces again a smaller portion of each chapter -- a paragraph, sentences, or sometimes only a phrase --and offers commentary on it. The commentaries are sometimes Pine's own. He also draws down a selection of the enormous commentary the Diamond Sutra has generated over the centuries. Some of this commentary dates from early Chinese sources and other portions of it are contemporary in origin. I found the various commentaries fascinating in themselves and useful in starting to approach the Diamond Sutra.

Pine also gives the reader familiar with the original sources an analysis of textual variations. More importantly, he offers the general reader a glossary of the many names, places and sources to which his commentary refers, which are likely to be unfamiliar to those approaching the Diamond Sutra for the first time.

There is a great deal in the commentary, and in the Diamond Sutra itself, comparing the teaching of the Sutra, with its emphasis on the Bodisattva, who works with compassion for the salvation of all sentient beings, with the earlier, Theravada, school of Buddhism, with its emphasis on the Arahant and on individual enlightenment. There is deep discussion in the Sutra on no-self, and on non-attachment. It is a text that will reward repeated meditation and readings.


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