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The Diamond Sutra

The Transendent Awareness That Cuts Like a Diamond Sutra

The Discourse On Transcendent Awareness In 300 Lines

Homage to the beautiful, the sacred transcendent awareness.

1 Introduction

1.a The assembly.

[1] Thus have I heard at one time. The Buddha was in Sravasti, in the Jeta Grove, in Anathapindada's park, with a large group of monks, 1250 monks and many great bodhisattvas. Early in the morning the Lord Buddha got dressed, took his bowl, and went to Sravasti for alms. When he had eaten, he returned to the park, put his bowl and coat away, washed his feet, and sat down on the seat that had been arranged for him. He crossed his legs, sat upright, and looked straight ahead. Many monks approached saluted his feet, walked around him three times, and sat down to one side.

1.b Subhuti asks

[2] Then the venerable Subhuti arrived and sat down. After rising and adjusting his robe, he knelt on one knee and with folded hands said to the Buddha, "It's great, oh Lord Buddha, it's exceedingly wonderful, oh well-traveled one, how much the bodhisattvas have been benefited by you, who knows where it's at, the superior man, the fully enlightened one. It's great how these bodhisattvas have been so highly favored by you, the one who knows where it's at, the superior man, the fully enlightened one. How should such favored bodhisattvas behave, proceed, and tame their thoughts?

The Buddha answered Subhuti, "Good question, good question Subhuti. You're right. The one who knows where it's at has helped the bodhisattvas, greatly helped them, favored them with the highest favor. So listen up, Subhuti. I'll tell you how those who have set out on the bodhisattva's way of life should behave, proceed, and tame their thoughts."

"So be it, Buddha." replied Subhuti, as he perked up.

2. The Bodhisattva's Career

2a. The Bodhisattva's Intention

[3] The Buddha said, "Subhuti, a person who has set out on the bodhisattva's way of life should think, 'I must lead all the beings of the universe to nirvana, whether they are born from an egg, from a womb, from scum, or they miraculously appear; I must lead them into nirvana where nothing remains behind. And yet, although innumerable beings have been thus led to nirvana, no being whatsoever has been led to nirvana.'

Why is that? If a bodhisattva thinks of a 'being' he or she is no bodhisattva. Why is that? He or she is no bodhisattva if they think in terms of a self or a being, or in terms of a living person or a soul."

[4] "Moreover, Subhuti, a bodhisattva who shares with others should free themselves. When sharing, they should be free from lust for beautiful sights, lovely sounds, gourmet tastes or smells, tactile enjoyments, and seductive thoughts. The bodhisattva should give to others without being influenced by seductive things. Why is that? Because a bodhisattva who shares uninfluenced by such things will reap vast benefits.

"What do you think, Subhuti? Can you comprehend the vastness of space to the east?"

"No, Blessed One! It is impossible to comprehend the vastness of space in the east."

"Subhuti, is it possible to comprehend the limits of space in the north, the south, or the west? Or any direction in the universe?"

"No, world-honored one."

"Subhuti, it is equally impossible to comprehend the vast benefits that incur to a bodhisattva who shares without being seduced by appearances."

[5] "What do you think, Subhuti? Can someone see the well- traveled one in the phenomena of physical presence?"

"No, Honored One! It is impossible to even see the well-traveled one in the phenomena of his physical presence. Why? Because the phenomena of his physical presence is not the same as the essential well-traveled one."

"You are right, Subhuti. The phenomena of the physical presence is wholly illusion. It is not until a person understands this that he can realize the true well-traveled one."

[6] Subhuti respectfully asked the lord buddha, "Honored one! In the future, if a person hears this teaching, or a part of it, whether a section or a sentence, will true faith awaken in thei mind?"

"No doubt about it, Subhuti. Even 500 years after the nirvana of the well-traveled one there will be some who, practicing charity and keeping the faith, will believe in sections and sentences of this scripture and will awaken their minds purely. Know, however, that such persons, long ago, planted seeds of goodness, not simply before one buddhist temple, or two, or five, but before hundreds of thousands of buddhas, so that when they hear sections and sentences of this scripture a pure faith will awaken within their minds.

"Subhuti, the well-traveled one knows that the sentient beings who awaken faith upon hearing sections or sentences of this scripture will accumulate inestimable blessings and merit. How do I know this? Because these sentient beings must have already discarded such arbitrary conceptions of phenomena as one's own self, other selves, living beings, and a universal self. If they had not, their minds would inevitably grasp after such things and they would then not be able to practice charity nor keep the precepts.

"Moreover, these sentient beings must also have discarded all arbitrary notions of a personal self, other personalities, living beings, and a universal self. Otherwise their minds would inevitably grasp after such relative conceptions. Furthermore, these sentient beings must have already discarded all arbitrary notions of the non-existence of a personal self, other personalities, living beings, and a universal self. Otherwise, their minds would still be grasping at such notions. Therefore everyone who seeks total enlightenment should discard not only conceptions of their own selfhood, other selves, living beings, and a universal self, but they should also discard all notions of the non-existence of such conceptions.

"When the well-traveled one, in teaching, uses conceptions and ideas, people should remember the unreality of all such concepts and ideas. They should recall that the well-traveled one, in teaching spiritual truths, always uses such notions in the way that a raft is used to cross a river. The raft is of no more use when the river has been crossed, and should be discarded. So these arbitrary conceptions of and about spiritual things should be given us as one attains enlightenment. How much more should one give up conceptions of non-existent things?"

[7] "What do you think, Subhuti? Has the well-traveled one attained anything that can be described as complete enlightenment? Has he ever given you any such teaching?"

Subhuti replied, "As I understand the teaching of the lord buddha, there is no such thing as complete enlightenment, nor is it possible for the well-traveled one to teach any fixed spiritual truth. Why? Because the things taught by the well-traveled one are, in their essential nature, inconceivable and inscrutable; they are neither existent nor non-existent; they are neither phenomena nor noumena. What does this mean? It means that buddhas and bodhisattvas are not enlightened by fixed teachings, but by an intuitive process, spontaneous and natural."

[8] "What do you think Subhuti? If a follower gave treasures enough to fill 3,000 universes, would that person gain considerable blessings and merit?"

Subhuti replied, "Considerable blessings and merit. Why? Because what the lord buddha has referred to as blessings and merit does not refer to anything objective, he merely refers to such things in a relative way The lord buddha continued, "If another, after studying and observing even a single stanza of this scripture, explains its meaning to others, their blessings and merit will be much greater. Why is that? Because from explanations such as these buddhas have attained unsurpassed enlightenment, and their teachings come from this sacred scripture. However, Subhuti, I must take back my words as soon as they are uttered, for there are no buddhas and no teachings."

[9] "What do you think, Subhuti? Suppose someone has entered the flow. Could that person arbitrarily say, 'I have entered the flow'?"

Subhuti replied, "No way man. Because, even though they have entered the flow, truly they have not entered anything, nor has their mind entertained such arbitrary conceptions as form, sound, taste, odor, tactile thing, or discrimination. Thus are such people known to have entered the flow."

"What do you think, Subhuti? Suppose someone has only one more life to traverse? Could that person say 'I have only one more life to go?"

"No way man. Because even if set to return only one more time, truly there is no rebirth either in this world or any other. By knowing this someone has only one more life to traverse."

"What do you think Subhuti? Suppose someone will never be reborn. Could that person say, 'I won't be reborn again'?"

"No way man. Because even though they won't be reborn, they don't really think in such arbitrary terms. Because of which they won't be reborn again."

"What do you think, Subhuti? Suppose someone is completely awake. Would that person think, 'I am awake'?"

"No way man. Because there really isn't such a thing as a truly awakened person. If someone harbored a thought such as 'I am awake' they would find themselves attached to ideas about a self, other selves, living beings, and a universal self. Oh Lord, you have said that I have become passively atuned, have reached the pinnacle of my potential, and am therefore awakened. If I cherished the thought, 'I am awake, free of desire!' you, good lord, would not have said that I delight in the practice of silence and tranquility. But, in truth, I have cherished no such arbitrary thought, so you could truly say, 'Subhuti delights in the practice of silence and tranquility."

[10] "What do you think, Subhuti? When the well-traveled one was, in a previous life, with Dipankara buddha, did I receive any definite teaching or attain any definite degree of self-control, whereby I later became a buddha?"

"No, honorable one. When the well-traveled one was a disciple of Dipankara buddha, in truth, he received no definite teaching, nor did he attain any definite supremacy."

"What do you think, Subhuti? Do the great bodhisattvas embellish the elysian fields to which they go?"

"No way man. And why is that? Because what you mean by the expression, 'embellish the elysian fields' is self-contradictory, for elysian fields thus embellished would no longer be called elysian fields. Therefore the expression 'embellishment of the elysian fields' is merely a figure of speech."

The Lord Buddha continued, "Therefore, Subhuti, the minds of all bodhisattvas should be purified of all thoughts that relate to seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and discriminating. They should use their mental faculties spontaneously and naturally, without being constrained by preconceived notions arising from the senses.

"Subhuti, suppose a person's body was as big as the highest mountain. What do you think? Would that body be considered huge?"

"Exceedingly huge, world-honored one! Because what you really mean by the expression 'huge body' is not limited by any arbitrary conception, so it can correctly be called huge."

[11] "What do you think, Subhuti? If there are as many Ganges Rivers as there are grains of sand in the river Ganges, will these rivers be numerous?"

"Exceedingly numerous, lord."

"Suppose there were these innumerable rivers, how immeasurable would be their grains of sand! Subhuti, if a good and faithful person, whether man or woman, were to give gifts of desirable things equal to those grains of sand in all those Ganges Rivers, would the merit accrued be considerable?"

"A very considerable merit, my lord."

"Subhuti, if another person, after studying and observing even one stanza of this scripture, were to explain it to others, their merit would be greater."

[12] "Furthermore, Subhuti, if any person in any place were to teach even one stanza of this scripture, that place would become sacred ground and would be revered by numerous kinds of beings, as if it were a sacred temple. How much more sacred would the place become if that person studied and observed the whole scripture! Be assured, Subhuti, such a person will attain total enlightenment, and the place where this scripture is reverenced will be like an altar consecrated to the buddha, or to one of his honored followers."

[13a] Subhuti said to the blessed one, "By what name shall we know this scripture, so that it can be honored and studied?"

The Lord Buddha replied, "This scripture shall be known as The Transcendent Awareness that Cuts Like a Diamond. 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 scripture 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 well-traveled one given you any definite teaching in this scripture?"

"No blessed lord, the well-traveled one has not given us any definite teaching in this scripture."

[13b] "What do you think, Subhuti? Are the atoms in 3,000 worlds very numerous?"

"Very numerous indeed, lord."

"Subhuti, when the well-traveled one speaks of atoms, it does not mean I am thinking any definite or arbitrary thought, I merely use the words as a figure of speech. It is just the same with the word universe; these words do not assert any definite or arbitrary idea, I merely use the words as words."

[13c] "What do you think, Subhuti? Can someone grasp the well-traveled one's personality by its 32 marks of physical excellence?"

"No blessed one! We cannot grasp the well-traveled one's wonderful personality by its 32 marks of excellence. Why? Because what the well-traveled one has expressed as '32 marks of physical excellence' does not convey any definite or arbitrary assertions as to the qualities of a buddha. The words are merely used as a figure of speech."

[13d] "Subhuti, if a good and faithful follower, whether male or female, has, for the sake of charity, been sacrificing their life for generation upon generation, for as many generations as the grains of sands in 3,000 universes; and another follower has beem merely studying and observing a single stanza of this scripture and explaining it to others, their blessings and merit will be greater."

[14a] As Subhuti listened intently to the words of the lord buddha, the teachings of this scripture penetrated his awareness, and he realized it to be the true path to enlightenment. With tears in his eyes, he said, "Oh, blessed lord, I have never before understood this profound scripture. You have opened my eyes to transcendent awareness.

"Honored one, what has been taught about the true significance of phenomena has no arbitrary or limited meaning. This teaching is, as you say, a raft to carry us to the other shore. Noble lord, when, as now, I have the chance to hear this scripture, it is not difficult to concentrate my mind upon it and clearly understand its significance; it awakens within my mind a pure faith. In the future, after 500 years, if there are any ready to hear it and ready to attain enlightenment, able to concentrate their minds upon it, able to clearly understand it, able to awaken a pure faith in it, such a person will thereby become a wonderful and preeminent person. And if there are such people, they will be able to awaken pure faith because they have ceased to cherish any arbitrary notions of their own selfhood, other selves, living beings, or a universal self. Why? Because if they are cherishing any arbitrary conception as to their own selfhood, they will be cherishing something that is non-existent. It is the same with all arbitrary conceptions of other selves, living beings, a universal self. These are all expressions of non-existent things. Such a person, able to discard all arbitrary conceptions of and about phenomena, will immediately become a buddha."

The lord buddha was very pleased with this reply, saying, "True, quite true. If a person, having heard this scripture, is not surprised, nor frightened, and does not shrink from it, they are a truly wonderful person."

[14b] "In talking about the practice of transcendent patience, the well-traveled one does not hold onto any arbitrary conceptions about the phenomena of patience, he merely refers to it as the practice of transcendent patience. And why is that? Because when, in a previous life, the Prince of Kalinga severed the flesh from my limbs and my body, even then I was free from such ideas as my own self, other selves, living beings, and a universal self. For if, at the time of my suffering, I had cherished any of these arbitrary notions, I would have fallen into impatience and hatred.

"Besides, Subhuti, I remember that during my five hundred previous lives I had used life after life to practice patience and to look upon my life humbly, as though I were a saint called upon to suffer humility. Even then my mind was free of arbitrary conceptions of the phenomena of my self, other selves, living beings, or a universal self."

[14c] The lord buddha continued, "When a great bodhisattva begins to practice toward attaining unsurpassed enlightenment, he or she must give up attachment to arbitrary ideas about reality. When thinking, he or she should definitely banish all thought connected with the sensory phenomena of sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, and all discriminations based thereupon, keeping the mind free of such arbitrary conceptions about reality. The mind becomes disturbed by discriminating in terms of sense data and the arbitrary conceptions that arise in their wake; as the mind gets disturbed it begins to falsely imagine a self and its relationship with other selves. Therefore the well-traveled one has constantly urged the great bodhisattvas, in their practice of sharing, not to be influenced by any arbitrary ideas about reality, such as sights, sounds, and so forth.

"Great bodhisattvas should share uninfluenced by any preconceived notions as to a self and other selves, and for the sole purpose of benefitting sentient beings, always recalling that both phenomena and sentient beings are to be considered as mere expressions. Nevertheless, Subhuti, the teachings of the well-traveled one are all true, credible, unchangeable; they are neither extravagant nor chimerical. The same is true of the attainments of the well-traveled one -- they are neither real nor unreal.

"Subhuti, if a great bodhisattva, in practicing charity, holds within his or her mind any of these arbitrary conceptions, thereby discriminating self from other selves, he or she will be like a person walking in the darkness and seeing nothing. But if a great bodhisattva, in practicing charity, has no arbitrary conception of receiving blessings and merit by such practice, he or she will be like a person with clear sight, seeing all things in bright sunshine.

"If, in the future, there is a worthwhile man or woman able to observe and study this scripture, their success and attainment of inconceivable blessings and merit will be instantly known and appreciated by the overarching vision of the well-traveled one."

[15] The Lord Buddha continued, "Subhuti, if a good person, whether male or female, in their zeal to practice charity is willing to sacrifice their life in the morning, at mid-day, or in the evening, on as many occasions as there are grains of sand in the river Ganges, and these occasions recur for a 100,000 eons, would the blessings and merit be great?"

"It would be great indeed, lord buddha."

"Supposing, Subhuti, another person were to observe and study this scripture with pure faith. Their blessings and merit would be greater. And if still another person, besides observing and studying this scripture, were to enthusiastically explain it to others and copy and circulate it, their blessings and merit would be far greater.

"In other words, Subhuti, this scripture is invested with an inestimable, illimitable, ineffable virtue and power. The well-traveled one elucidates this scripture only to those persons who are earnestly and perserveringly seeking to perfectly realize total enlightenment and attain the bodhisattva stages of compassion that characterize the greater path. As people are able to enthusiastically and faithfully observe and study this scripture, explain it to others and circulate it widely, the well-traveled one will recognize and support them until they succeed in attaining its inestimable, illimitable, and wonderful virtues. Such people will share with the well-traveled one its task of compassion and its reward of total enlightenment.

"And why, Subhuti, is this promise limited to the followers of the greater path? Because the followers of the lesser path have not yet been able to free themselves from such arbitrary conceptions as personal selfhood, other personalities, living beings, and a universal self, and are therefore not yet able to faithfully and earnestly observe and study and explain this scripture to others.

"Listen up Subhuti! Wherever this scripture shall be observed and studied and explained, that place will become sacred ground to which countless spiritually advanced beings will bring offerings. Such places, however humble they may be, will be reverenced as though they were famous temples, and countless pilgrims will come there to worship. Over them spiritually advanced beings will hover, sprinkling that place with celestial flowers."

[16] The blessed one continued, "Subhuti, should there be among the faithful some who have not yet matured their karma and who must first suffer the natural retribution of evils committed in some previous life by being degraded to a lower life form, and should they earnestly and faithfully observe and study this scripture, and thereby be despised and persecuted by people, their karma will immediately mature and they will attain supreme, total awakening.

"Subhuti, I recall that long ago, numerous eons before the time of Dipankara buddha, without my having been at fault, I served and worshiped and received spiritual instruction and discipline from 84,000 myriad buddhas. Yet in the far future ages of the last era of this world, if a student faithfully observes, studies, and puts into practice the teachings in this scripture, the blessing that will accrue will far exceed that acquired by me during those long years of service and discipline under those many buddhas. Yes, it will exceed my poor merit, billions to one. Yes, even more, it will exceed uncountable myriads to one.

The lord buddha continued, "Subhuti, in contrast to what I have said about the inestimable blessing that will come to earnest followers who observe and study and practice this scripture in that far off time, I must tell you that there will probably be some students who, upon hearing this scripture, will become bewildered and will not believe what they hear. Subhuti, you should remember that just as the spiritual message of this scripture transcends human thought, so also the effect and the final result of studying it and putting it into practice is inscrutable."

The Diamond Sutra Continued

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