The following discourse is attributed to
Siddhartha Gautama, later called the Buddha Shakyamuni (the holy sage of the
Shakya clan), passed on by word of mouth throughout the centuries from around
500 BC until the second century AD, when it was written down by Nagarjuna.
Hui-neng, the sixth Patriarch of Ch'an, identified Nagarjuna as being about
halfway in the line of dharma-succession from Siddhartha to
Bodhidharma, who carried the Great Jewel from India to China.
I first read the Diamond Sutra in the
A.F. Price and Wong Mou-Lam translation (see
Sources and Links page), and I
found that the stylistic conventions interfered with my absorbing the message,
so I reworded it into a simplified form that was easier for me to read and
consider. I'm including my version here in hopes that it might be a useful
introduction if you're not already familiar with the sutra.
In Jeta Grove, the park of Anatha-pindika
near the once-great city Shravasti, the "city of wonders" in
northern India close to the border of Nepal, twelve hundred and fifty
wandering mendicants broke their fast then gathered round to hear the words
of the Buddha.
They should discipline their thoughts as
follows, Buddha replied. All living creatures are caused by me to attain
unbounded liberation. Yet when vast numbers of beings have thus been
liberated, in truth no being has been liberated. And why is this? Because
no enlightened being cherishes the idea of a separate individuality.
Will there always be men who truly believe
after hearing this teaching? Subhuti asked.
Twenty-five hundred years after the passing
of the Buddha [i.e., circa 2000], men hearing this teaching will have an uprising
of pure faith, and the Buddha will recognize them, Siddhartha answered.
Yes, he will clearly perceive all those of
pure heart. And why is that? It is because such men will not cherish the
idea of individuality, of a separate 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 ideas imply 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 his 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.
If anyone filled three thousand galaxies
with all the treasures of the universe and gave it all away in alms, would he
gain great merit? Buddha asked.
Great indeed World-Honored One.
On the other hand, Buddha said, if anyone
received and retained even four lines of this discourse and taught them to
others, his merit would be the greater. From this discourse issue forth all
the buddhas and the enlightenment teachings of all the buddhas.
seems like a device for ensuring that the teaching would be carried on to
succeeding generations verbatim, which was probably a major concern before
the advent of widespread recording media. On the other hand, Buddha has just
said that there is no teaching to enunciate and that truth is inexpressible.
Apparently he didn't assume there would be an unbroken chain of enlightened
teachers to keep the lamp burning. Although words cannot express Truth, they
can be catalysts for the advent of awakening, as Hui-neng describes his first
hearing of the Diamond Sutra and as two friends and fellow students of
Richard Rose found out in 1999, one upon reading something written by Alfred
Pulyan, the other when reading something written by Franklin Merrell-Wolff
(see the Maximum Systems page).]
If a good man or woman filled three thousand
galaxies with all the treasures in the universe as many times over as there
are grains of sand in all their great rivers and gave all away in gifts to the
needy, would he gain great merit?
Great indeed, World-Honored One.
Nevertheless, if a good man or woman studies this discourse
only so far as to receive and retain four lines, and teaches and explains
them to others, the consequent merit would be far greater.
[Richard Rose felt strongly that a
person's path is accelerated by a vow to help others. He remarked that while
few have ears to hear Truth, even fewer can act pointing out that while
Jesus had about seventy disciples, there were only twelve apostles.
Following this proportion as a guide, every seeker should be helping six
other seekers on the rung of the ladder below his own.]
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.
Would there be many molecules in three
thousand galaxies, Subhuti?
Many, indeed, Subhuti said.
The Tathagata [another title for Buddha composed in
Chinese of the characters for "thus" and
"come"] declares that all these molecules are not really such; they
are merely called molecules. Furthermore, a world is not really a world; it
is merely called such.
If on the one hand a good man or woman sacrifices as many
lives as sand grains on the Ganges, and on the other hand anyone receives and
retains only four lines of this discourse, and teaches it to others, the
merit of the latter will be greater.
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 in faith with a pure, lucid
mind, he will thereupon conceive an idea of fundamental reality.
Just as you say, Buddha replied. If anyone listens to this
discourse and is filled with neither alarm nor awe nor dread, be it known
that such a one is of remarkable achievement.
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 the sensible world.
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,
The Tathagata is he who declares that
which is true, he who declares that which is fundamental, he who declares
that which is ultimate. The truth to which the Tathagata has attained
is neither real nor unreal.
If there be good men and women in future ages able to
receive, read and recite this discourse in its entirety, the Tathagata
will clearly perceive and recognize them by means of his
buddha-knowledge; and each one of them will bring immeasurable and
incalculable merit to fruition.
[The conversion of an ordinary man to a
bodhisattva is said to be marked by three events: 1) he awakens the
thought of enlightenment; 2) he dedicates himself to the ideal of service for
the salvation of all creatures; and 3) he receives a prediction from a
buddha of his attainment of the goal.]
If on the one hand a good man or woman
performs in the morning as many charitable acts of self-denial as the sand
grains of the Ganges, and performs as many again in the noonday and as many
again in the evening, and continues so doing throughout numberless ages, and,
on the other hand, anyone listens to this discourse with heart of faith and
without contention, the latter would be the more blessed. But how can any
comparison be made with one who writes it down, receives it, retains it, and
explains it to others!
The full value of this discourse can be neither conceived
nor estimated, nor can any limit be set to it. The Tathagata has
declared this teaching for the benefit of the initiates of the great way; he
has declared it for the benefit of the initiates of the supreme way.
If good men and women who receive and retain
this discourse are downtrodden, their evil destiny is the inevitable
retributive result of sins committed in their past mortal lives. By virtue
of their present misfortunes the reacting effects of their past will be
thereby worked out, and they will be in a position to attain the consummation
of incomparable enlightenment.
If I fully detailed the merit gained by good men and women
coming to receive, retain, study and recite this discourse, my hearers would
be filled with doubt and might become disordered in mind, suspicious and
unbelieving. You should know, Subhuti, that the significance of this
discourse is beyond conception; likewise the fruit of its rewards is beyond
[The above remark is consistent with the
teachings of the Ch'an masters, which is that reality cannot be conceived by
the intellect but can only be realized through direct experience.]
World-Honored One, if good men and women
seek enlightenment, how should they abide and how control their thoughts?
They must create this resolved attitude of mind, Buddha
replied: "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 implying all formulas. 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 separate individuality. Bodhisattvas who are truly devoid
of any conception of separate selfhood are truthfully called
If there were as many Ganges rivers as the
sand grains of the Ganges and there was a buddha-land for each sand
grain in all those rivers, would those buddha-lands be many?
However many living beings there are in all
those buddha-lands, though they have manifold modes of mind, the
Tathagata understands them all. All these are not mind; 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 with belief?
Those to whom you refer are neither living
beings nor not-living beings. "Living beings" are not really such;
they are just called that.
Furthermore, THIS 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
If one gives the needy a mass of treasures
equal in extent to as many mighty Mount Sumerus as there would be in three
thousand galaxies, and if another selects even four lines from this discourse
upon the perfection of the transcendental wisdom, receiving and retaining
them, and clearly expounding them to others, the merit of the latter will be
so far greater than that of the former that no conceivable comparison can be
made between them.
Let no one say the Tathagata
cherishes the idea "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 idea of selfhood, personality, ego entity and separate
The Tathagata's attainment of enlightenment was not by
reason of his perfected form [I believe he's referring to the entire
organism, physical and mental, as well as its manifested actions]. 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.
If one bodhisattva bestows in charity sufficient
treasures to fill as many worlds as there are sand grains in the Ganges, and
another, realizing that all things are egoless, attains perfection through
patient forbearance, the merit of the latter will far exceed that of the former.
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
[From the Bhagavad-Gita: Thy right is to work, but
never to its fruits; let not the fruit of thy work be thy motive, nor take
refuge in abstinence from works. Standing in union with the Soul, carry
out thy work, putting away attachment, O conqueror of wealth; equal in success
and failure, for equalness is called union with the Soul.]
If a good man or woman ground an infinite number of worlds to
dust, would the resulting minute particles be many, Subhuti?
Many, indeed! Because if such
were really minute particles Buddha would not have spoken of them as minute
particles. "Minute particles" is just the name given to
them. Also, when the Tathagata speaks of worlds, these are not
worlds; for if reality could be predicated of a world it would be a
self-existent cosmos, and the Tathagata teaches that there is really no
Words cannot explain the real
nature of a cosmos, Buddha agreed. Only common people fettered with desire
make use of this arbitrary method.
fill innumerable worlds with treasure and give all away in gifts of alms,
but if any good man or woman awakens the thought of enlightenment and takes
even four lines from this discourse, reciting, using, receiving, retaining
and spreading them abroad and explaining them for the benefit of others, it
will be far more meritorious.
In what manner
may he explain them to others? By detachment from appearances -
abiding in real truth.