top page

The Diamond Sūtra

Translated by A. Charles Muller

Updated: 9/10/04


Table of Contents

Introduction
1. Convocation of the Assembly
2. Where should practitioners abide mentally, and how should they control their thoughts?
3. The Bodhisattva's Vow
4. Unattached practice of charity
5. Physical Characteristics of Buddhahood
6. The merit of true faith
7. No attainment, no teaching
8. Real merit has no merit
9. The four lesser vehicle realizations
10. Arousing the pure aspiration without abiding
11. Merits of memorizing this sūtra (#1)
12. Merits of memorizing this sūtra (#2)
13. Naming of the sūtra
14. True characteristics are not characteristics
15. The sūtra is not for lesser vehicle practitioners
16. Purgation through suffering of bad karma
17. Defining the bodhisattva
18. Physical and mental faculties are unobtainable
19. No merit is great merit
20. Discerning the Buddha by his body
21. No dharma is dharma; non-sentient beings are sentient beings
22. The attainability of peerless perfect enlightenment
23. The role of good factors
24. Merits of transmitting the sūtra: far greater than those of charity
25. No sentient beings for the Tathāgata to save
26. Trying to discern the Buddha by his bodily characteristics
27. Attainment of enlightenment based on bodily characteristics
28. Bodhisattvas do not appropriate merit
29. The Thus-come One doesn't come or go
30. The status of composite things
31. Wrapping up the four views
32. Conclusion

Introduction

The Diamond Sūtra (Vajracchedika-prajñāpāramitā-sūtra) has maintained a high degree of popularity in the Mahāyāna Buddhist tradition for over a millenium, especially in East Asia, and most importantly within the East Asian meditation (Chan/Seon/Zen/Thien) school, where it has been recited, taught, and commented on extensively up to the present day. One reason for its popularity is its brevity — it can be chanted in about forty minutes, which means that it is something that an average person can memorize without superhuman effort. More important, though, is the basic resonance of the text's message with a core aspect of Chan doctrine/practice — the theme of "non-abiding." 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, and avoiding being tricked and ensnared by the web of mental constructs that one continually weaves for oneself. The ongoing proliferation of these deluded constructs has as its causes and conditions not only in the thought processes in which one is engaged at the present moment, but also the flowing river one's entire multi-lifetime load of previous karma. And not only one's own karma, but the linguistic/karmic flow of one's entire culture.

A vitally important message of the Diamond Sūtra is that non-abiding should not be misconstrued as a nihilistic sort of practice. On the other hand, it also does not imply simply giving free reign to one's thoughts, since then, one is certainly going to get further wrapped up in the dense web of one's own spinning. Non-abiding necessitates the kind of moment-to-moment attentiveness that is awesome in its required subtlety. Nonetheless, with just a modicum of experience in meditative practice, the new student of the Diamond Sūtra will no doubt begin to get some sort of feel for what is going on in this text. In a sense, it is simple: the thoughts, labels, signs, characteristics, etc., that we associate with given things, are nothing more than labels, and should not be imputed as the reality of the thing in itself, thus becoming reified objects of our desire and dislike. Yet there is also such a thing as thinking and seeing correctly, and it is permissible, nay, necessary, to use these notions, signs, and labels 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 that recommends negating, or running away from any of the experiences that impinge upon our consciousness. Nor can it maintain that there is any such thing as a fixed, or final truth. As the Daodejing says, "The Way that can be taught is not the true Way." Either of these extreme options are none other than another form of abiding, or appropriation.

Historically speaking, the affinity on the part of the Chinese for a philosophical text that not only describes non-appropriation, but which also leads the readers through a rigorous exercise of the process, 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 of popularity in the Chan school after its ascendancy. While other Indian Mahāyāna scriptures and treatises had described the notions of selflessness and dependent origination at length in an expository manner, it can be argued that aside from certain Mādhyamika texts that contained live exercises in the practice of non-abiding, there is no text in the tradition that focuses so directly in the repeated formulaic 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 of conceptual labels, overlaps significantly with that of the Heart Sūtra, which went as far as to say "no suffering, no path... no wisdom, no attainment." This was done to bring home to Buddhist adherents the completeness of the doctrine of emptiness, by pointing out that no concept is sacred. Even the most hallowed conceptions in Buddhism: morality, wisdom, enlightenment, dependent origination, are after all nothing but linguistic constructs, and the Buddhist believer must even get rid of these—with the same understanding, we might guess, that Meister Eckhart said "...therefore let us pray to God that 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 Publication

This 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 Electronic Text Association (http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/cbeta/). I, like hundreds of others scholars around the world, am deeply indebted to this organization for its pioneering work in text digitization. While doing this translation, I also had at my disposal three other previous translations, those by: (1) A. F. Price (The Diamond Sūtra and the Sūtra of Hui Neng), (2) Thich Nhat Hanh (The Diamond that Cuts through 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 that each translator chooses to render certain concepts into English prose, even they understand them in basically the same way.

The source document for this translation is marked up in XML according to the guidelines for the Text Encoding Initiative. Being a digital document that can readily be revised and republished, this text, like my other online translations, will undoubtedly be reread and revised from time to time. For this 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, since readers 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 a community of 1250 monks. Then, at mealtime, the World Honored One put on his robe, took his bowl, and went into the great city of Śrāvastī to seek alms food, going from house to house within the city. Finishing, he returned home and took his meal. He then put away his robe and bowl, washed his feet, arranged his seat, and sat down.


2. Where should practitioners abide mentally, and how should they control their thoughts?

[Chinese Source Text]

The elder Subhūti, who was in the great assembly, then arose from his seat, stood up, bared his right shoulder, kneeled down with his right knee, clasped his hands together and respectfully addressed the Buddha, saying: "How rare is the World Honored One! The Tathāgata is well mindful of all the bodhisattvas; he keeps them well in his fold.World Honored One, when good sons and good daughters seek peerless perfect enlightenment, in what should they abide, and how should they subdue their thoughts?"

The Buddha said, "Excellent! Excellent! Subhūti, it is as you have said. The Tathāgata is well mindful of all the bodhisattvas, and is skilful at keeping them in his fold. Now you listen well, and I shall explain it for you."

"If good sons and good daughters would like to arouse the mind of peerless perfect enlightenment, 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 with great anticipation."


3. The Bodhisattva's Vow

[Chinese Source Text]

The Buddha said to Subhūti: "The bodhisattvas and mahāsattvas should subdue their thoughts like this: All the different types of sentient beings, whether they be born from eggs, born from a womb, born from moisture or born spontaneously; whether or not they have form; whether they abide in perceptions or no perceptions; or without either perceptions or non-perceptions, I save them by causing them to enter nirvana without remainder. And when these immeasurable, countless, infinite number 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 life-span, 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 notion that 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? If bodhisattvas 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 also incalculable 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 bodily characteristics?"

"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 see all 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 beings who 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 my passing away, there will be those who observe moral discipline and cultivate merit, who will be able to give rise to the mental state of faith and take these words to be the truth. You should know that these people have not merely cultivated virtuous roots with one buddha, two buddhas, three, four, or five buddhas. They have cultivated all kinds of virtuous roots with countless hundreds of thousands of buddhas. Hearing these passages, in a single moment they give rise to pure faith. Subhūti, the Tathāgata 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 of non-dharma. Why? If these sentient beings their minds grasp to these notions, then they will cling to self, person, sentient being, and life-span. If they grasp to the notions of phenomena, they will attach to self, person, sentient being, and life span. Why? If they grasp to the denial of phenomena, then they will attach to self, person, sentient being, and life span. Therefore one should not grasp to phenomena, 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 be abandoned, 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? And does he have a teaching that he explains?"

Subhūti said: "As I understand the implications of what the Buddha has explained, there is no determinable phenomenon called peerless perfect enlightenment. And there is also no set teaching that can be delivered by the Tathāgata. Why? The teachings explained by the Tathāgata can neither be appropriated nor explained. There is neither a teaching nor a non-teaching. How can this be? All the enlightened sages are distinguished [from worldly teachers] by unconditioned phenomena."


8. Real merit has no merit

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, what do you think? If a person were to fill a chiliocosm with the seven kinds of jewels and give them away charitably, wouldn't the merit attained by this person be great?"

Subhūti said, "Extremely great, World Honored One. And why? This merit has no nature of merit; therefore the tathāgata says that this merit is great."

The Buddha said: "But if there were a person well-attentive to this sūtra such that he or she could teach a four line verse from it to others, this person's merit would exceed that of the former example. Why? Subhūti, all of the buddhas and all of their teachings of peerless perfect enlightenment spring forth from this sūtra. Subhūti, that which is called the buddhadharma is not the buddhadharma."


9. The four lesser vehicle realizations

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, what do you think? Does a practitioner who has attained the level of srota-āpanna think: 'I have attained the realization of the srota-āpanna?' "

Subhūti said, "No, World Honored One. And why not? Because the name srota-āpanna means 'stream-enterer,' and there is in fact no stream to be entered. One does not enter form, sound, odor, taste, touch, or concepts. Therefore one is called a srota-āpanna."

"Subhūti, what do you think? Does a sakṛdāgāmin think, 'I have attained the realization of sakṛdāgāmin?' "

Subhūti said: "No, World Honored One. And why not? Although the name sakṛdāgāmin means to go and come one [more time], there is, in reality, no going or coming. Therefore he is called a sakṛdāgāmin."

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, what do you think? Does the adept who has attained the level of anāgāmin say, 'I have achieved the realization of the anāgāmin?' "

Subhūti said, "No, World Honored One. And why not? Anāgāmin means non-returning [to this world], but there is, in fact, no such thing as returning. Therefore this person is called an anāgāmin."

"Subhūti, what do you think? Does the arhat think, 'I have attained the realization of the arhat?' "

"No, World Honored One. And why not? There is, in reality, no such a thing called 'arhat.' World Honored One, if an arhat should give rise to the thought, 'I have attained the realization of the arhat, this would mean that he is attached to the notions of self, person, sentient being, and life span.' "

[Chinese Source Text]

"World Honored One, you have said that I am the most proficient in terms of the attainment of the meditative absorption of no-contention, and that I am the arhat most free from the desire. But I do not give rise to the thought that I am an arhat who is free from desire. World Honored One, if I were to give rise to the thought that I have attained the level of the arhat, then you would not have said of me that I enjoy the practice of forest-dwelling, since there is in actuality nothing for me to practice. Therefore I am called 'Subhūti, the one who enjoys the practice of forest-dwelling.' "


10. Arousing the pure aspiration without abiding

[Chinese Source Text]

The Buddha said to Subhūti, "What do you think? When the tathāgata studied under Dīpaṃkara Buddha, did he gain any attainment in the dharma?"

"World Honored One, when the Tathāgata studied under Dīpaṃkara Buddha, there was, in reality, nothing that he attained in the dharma."

"Subhūti, what do you think? Does the Buddha create sublime Buddha-lands?"

"No, he does not, World Honored One. And why not? Sublime Buddha-lands are not sublime. Therefore they care called sublime."

"And so, Subhūti, the bodhisattvas and mahasattvas should give rise to the pure aspiration in this way: they should not give rise to the aspiration while abiding in form. They should not give rise to the aspiration while abiding in sound, odor, taste, touch, or concepts. They should give rise to the aspiration while not abiding in anything."

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, it is like if there were a person with a body as large as Mt. Sumeru. What do you think? Would this body not be huge?"

"Extremely huge, World Honored One. And why so? The Buddha teaches us that it is not a body. Hence it is called a huge body"


11. Merits of memorizing this sūtra (#1)

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, if each of the sands in the Ganges river contained its own Ganges river, would not the number of sands contained in all those Ganges rivers be great?"

Subhūti said, "Extremely great, World Honored One. If the number of even the Ganges rivers were countless, how much more so its grains of sand?"

"Subhūti, now I am going to tell you a truth. If a good son or good daughter filled three thousand galaxies with the seven jewels equal to the number of grains of sand in all those Ganges rivers and gave them away charitably, would his or her merit not be great?"

"Extremely great, World Honored One."

The Buddha said to Subhūti: "If a good son or good daughter is able to memorize four lines of verse from this sūtra and teach them to others, his or her merit will be far greater."


12. Merits of memorizing this sūtra (#2)

[Chinese Source Text]

"Furthermore, Subhūti, if someone were to recite as much as a four line verse of this sūtra, that place would become like a shrine to the Buddha, where the celestials, humans, and titans in all the worlds would come and make offerings. How much more so in the case where one completely memorizes and recites the sūtra. Subhūti, you should know that such a person has accomplished the most subtle state of awareness. Wherever this sūtra is kept, the Buddha's most revered disciples are also present."


13. Naming of the sūtra

[Chinese Source Text]

Then Subhūti addressed the Buddha, saying: "World Honored One, what should we call this scripture, and how should we practice it?"

The Buddha said to Subhūti: "This scripture is called the Diamond of Transcendent Wisdom. You should practice it according to this name. And why? That which the Buddha calls 'transcendent wisdom' is not transcendent wisdom. Subhūti, what does this mean? Does the tathāgata have a teaching to explain?"

Subhūti said to the Buddha, "World Honored One, the Tathāgata has no teaching to explain."

"Subhūti, what do you think? Are not the tiniest particles contained in the worlds of three thousand galaxies great in number?"

Subhūti said, "Extremely great in number, World Honored One."

"Subhūti, the Tathāgata teaches that tiny particles are not tiny particles. Therefore they are called tiny particles. The Tathāgata teaches that worlds are not worlds. Therefore they are called worlds."

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, what do you think? Can the Tathāgata be discerned by means of his thirty-two bodily characteristics?"

"No, he cannot, World Honored One. One cannot discern a Tathāgata by means of his thirty-two bodily characteristics. And why not? Because the thirty-two bodily characteristics that are taught by the Tathāgata are in fact not characteristics. Therefore they are called the thirty-two characteristics."

"Subhūti, if a good son or good daughter dedicates lifetimes as numerous as the sands in the Ganges river to charitable acts, and there were another person who memorized as much as a four-line verse of this scripture and taught it to others, the merit of the latter person would be by far greater."


14. True characteristics are not characteristics

[Chinese Source Text]

Then, Subhūti, having heard this sermon, deeply understood its point. He was moved to tears, and said to the Buddha: "It is a rare treasure for us, World Honored One, that you have taught this profound scripture. Since the time long ago when I attained the eye of insight, I have never had access to this sort of teaching. World Honored One, if someone is able to hear this kind of scripture, purify his faith and thus [perceive] the true characteristics of things, we should know that this person has attained the most rare kind of merit. World Honored One, these true characteristics are actually not characteristics. Therefore the Tathāgata calls them true characteristics."

[Chinese Source Text]

"World Honored One: Having presently heard the teaching of this scripture, I do not have difficulty in adequately grasping its point. But if there is someone five hundred years hence who is able to hear this scripture, and believe, understand, and commit it to memory, then this person will be most rare. Why? This person will not be abiding in the notion of self, the notion of person, the notion of sentient being, or the notion of life span. And why? Because the notion of self is not a notion. The notion of person, the notion of sentient being, and the notion of life span are also not notions. And why? Those who are free from all notions are called buddhas."

The Buddha said to Subhūti: "Yes, yes. You are right. You should know that if someone hears the teaching of this scripture and is neither shocked, afraid, or alarmed, this person is extremely rare. And why? Subhūti, what the Tathāgata calls the greatest transcendence, is not the greatest transcendence. Therefore it is called the greatest transcendence."

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, the transcendent forbearance that I teach is not transcendent forbearance. And why not? Subhūti, in a former lifetime my body was cut into pieces by the Rājah Kaliṅga. If, at that time, I was not abiding in the notions of self, person, sentient being, or life span. And why not? If, at the time body was cut into pieces, if I had been holding to the notions of self, person, sentient being, or life span, I would have felt ill-will [toward Kaliṅga]. Subhūti, I also remember some five hundred lifetimes ago having practiced forbearance as a renunciant sage.1 At that time I was also free from the notions of self, person, sentient being, and life. Therefore, Subhūti, the bodhisattvas should free themselves from all notions and arouse the aspiration for peerless perfect enlightenment. They should not arouse this aspiration while abiding in form, and they should not arouse this aspiration while abiding in sound, odor, taste, touch, or conceptualization. They should give rise to the aspiration that has no abode. If the mind abides, then this is not abiding. Therefore I say that the mind of the bodhisattvas should not abide in the form of charity."

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, when a bodhisattva wants to confer benefit on all sentient beings, she should practice charity like this. I teach that all notions are not notions. I also teach that all sentient beings are not sentient beings. Subhūti, my words are true — they are authentic, and they explain things they way they are. My words are not deceptions, and they are not erroneous. Subhūti, the dharma that I have attained, as a teaching, has neither truth nor falsity. Subhūti, if a bodhisattva practices charity while abiding in [notions of] the teaching, it is like a person in the dark who cannot see anything. If a bodhisattva practices charity while not abiding in [notions of] the teaching, it is like a person with eyes wide open in the sunlight, seeing all kinds of forms. Subhūti, if, in a future time there are good sons and good daughters who are able to memorize this scripture and recite it, then I will, with my buddha-wisdom, be fully aware of these people, seeing each one of them, as each one attains countless, limitless merit."


15. The sūtra is not for lesser vehicle practitioners

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, suppose there were a good son or good daughter who made dedications of his or her life to charity in a quantity equal to the number of grains of sand in the Ganges, and in the middle of the day made dedications of his or her life to charity in a quantity equal to the number of grains of sand in the Ganges, and at the end of the day also made dedications of his or her life to charity in a quantity equal to the number of grains of sand in the Ganges, and made these dedications of his or her life to charity in this way for immeasurable hundreds of thousands of billions of eons. If, on the other hand, there were a person who heard the teaching of this scripture with the mental attitude of faith, and did not doubt it, the merit of this person would exceed that of the prior. How much more so in the case of the person who copies it, memorizes it, chants it, and explains it to others."

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, it can be summarized like this: this scripture carries inconceivable, immeasurable, limitless merit, and the Tathāgata teaches it to those who have entered into the great vehicle, and to those who have entered into the supreme vehicle. Any person who is able to memorize, recite, and teach this scripture to others is perceived by the Tathāgata, and is seen by the Tathāgata, and all attain innumerable, immeasurable, limitless, inconceivable merit. These people are the carriers of the Tathāgata's peerless perfect enlightenment. And why? Subhūti, those who are contented with inferior teachings are attached to the view of self, the view of person, the view of sentient being, and the view of life span. Such a person is not able to hear, understand, recite, and teach this scripture to others. Subhūti, any place where this scripture is present, all the gods, humans, and titans in all the worlds will come and make offerings. You should know that such a place is equivalent to a shrine, where all should venerate, pay obeisance, and circumambulate while scattering flowers and incense around the place."


16. Purgation through suffering of bad karma

[Chinese Source Text]

"Furthermore, Subhūti, if there is a good son or good daughter who memorizes and recites this scripture, but is belittled by others, it is because this person committed crimes in a prior life which resulted in negative rebirths. Through enduring the disparagement of others in the present life, the bad karma from the prior lives can be removed, and one can attain peerless perfect enlightenment. Subhūti, billions of countless eons ago, before the time of Dīpaṃkara Buddha, I have encountered 84,000 billions of countless buddhas, serving them and making offerings to them without lapse. If there is also a person in the final age who is able to memorize and recite this scripture, this person's merit will be one hundred times, a hundred trillion times — nay, an incalculable number of times greater than that which I gained when I made offerings to all these buddhas. "

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, if I completely elucidated the merits to be gained by good sons and good daughters in the final age who memorize and recite this scripture, there may be people who, upon its hearing, become confused, suspicious, and unbelieving. Subhūti, you should know that the underlying meaning of this sūtra is inconceivable, and the results [obtained from its memorization and recitation] are also inconceivable."


17. Defining the bodhisattva

[Chinese Source Text]

Then Subhūti addressed the Buddha, saying: "World Honored One, if good sons and good daughters would like to arouse the aspiration for peerless perfect enlightenment, in what should they mentally abide, and how should they gain mastery over their thoughts?"

The Buddha said to Subhūti: "Good sons and good daughters who want to arouse the aspiration for peerless perfect enlightenment should think like this: 'I will save all sentient beings.' Yet when all sentient beings have been liberated, in fact, not a single sentient being has been liberated. And why not? Subhūti, if a bodhisattva holds the notion of a self, the notion of person, the notion of sentient being, and the notion of life span, then she is not a bodhisattva. Why? Subhūti, there is actually no such a thing as peerless perfect enlightenment."

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, what do you think? When the Tathāgata was with Dīpaṃkara Buddha, was there any such a thing as peerless perfect enlightenment?"

"No, World Honored One. As I understand the content of your teaching, when you were with Dīpaṃkara Buddha, there was no thing as peerless perfect enlightenment."

The Buddha said, "Correct, correct. Subhūti, there is, in fact, no such thing as the attainment of peerless perfect enlightenment by the Tathāgata. Subhūti, if there were such as thing as the attainment of peerless perfect enlightenment by the Tathāgata, Dīpaṃkara Buddha would not have conferred upon me the prediction of attainment of buddhahood, saying, 'You will attain buddhahood in the future, with the name Śākyamuni.' It is precisely because there is actually no such thing as the attainment of peerless perfect enlightenment, that Dīpaṃkara Buddha conferred the prediction of buddhahood upon me, saying, 'You will attain buddhahood in the future, with the name Śākyamuni.' "

[Chinese Source Text]

"And why? Because 'Tathagata' means 'all phenomena (dharmas) as they really are.' Subhūti, if someone says that the Tathāgata attains peerless perfect enlightenment, there is in fact, no such thing as the Buddha attaining peerless perfect enlightenment. Subhūti, the peerless perfect enlightenment attained by the Tathāgata is neither real nor unreal. Therefore the Tathāgata teaches that all dharmas are the buddhadharma. Subhūti, those things that are described as 'all dharmas' are not all dharmas. Therefore they are called 'all dharmas.' "

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, please take, for example, the case of a large human body."

Subhūti said, "World Honored One, the large human body that you have mentioned is not a large body; therefore it is called a large body."

"Subhūti, it is the same with a bodhisattva. If he says, 'I will save numberless sentient beings,' then he is not a bodhisattva. Why? Subhūti, there is actually no such state called bodhisattvahood. Therefore I say that all phenomena have no self, no personality, no sentient beingness, and no life span. Subhūti, if a bodhisattva says 'I will adorn buddha-lands,' I would not call this person a bodhisattva. Why? What the Tathāgata has called adornment of buddha-lands is not adornment. Therefore it is called adornment. Subhūti, if a bodhisattva realizes the selflessness of phenomena, the Tathāgata calls this person a real bodhisattva."


18. Physical and mental faculties are unobtainable

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, what do you think? Does the Tathāgata have the physical eye?"

"Yes, World Honored One. The Tathāgata has the physical eye."

"Subhūti, what do you think? Does the Tathāgata have the divine eye?"

"Yes, World Honored One, the Tathāgata has the divine eye."

"Subhūti, what do you think? Does the Tathāgata have the wisdom eye?"

"Yes, World Honored One, the Tathāgata has the wisdom eye."

"Subhūti, what do you think? Does the Tathāgata have the dharma eye?"

"Yes, World Honored One. The Tathāgata has the dharma eye?"

"Subhūti, what do you think? Does the Tathāgata have the buddha eye?"

"Yes, World Honored One. The Tathāgata has the buddha eye."

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, what do you think? When discussing the sands in Ganges river, the Buddha calls these 'sands,' does he not?"

"Yes, World Honored One, the Tathāgata calls them 'sands.' "

"Subhūti, what do you think? If each of the sands in the one Ganges river each contained its own Ganges river, and each grain of sand in all these Ganges rivers represented a buddha-world, would not their number be many?"

"Very many, World Honored One."

The Buddha said to Subhūti: "The Tathāgata is fully aware of the various thoughts of each of the sentient beings dwelling in these buddha worlds. And how so? None of what the Tathāgata calls 'thoughts' are actually thoughts. Therefore they are called thoughts. Why? Because the past thought is unobtainable, the present thought is unobtainable, and the future thought is unobtainable."


19. No merit is great merit

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, what do you think? If there were a person who was able to take enough of the seven jewels to fill all the worlds of the three galaxies, and gave them away for charity, would not, based on these causes and conditions, this person's merit be great?"

"Yes, World Honored One, based on these causes and conditions this person's merit would be extremely great."

"Subhūti, if this merit were real, the Tathāgata would not say that there was attainment of great merit. It is because this merit is non-existent that the Tathāgata says that the merit is great."


20. Discerning the Buddha by his body

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, what do you think? Can the Buddha be discerned by seeing his perfectly-formed body?"

"No, World Honored One. The Tathāgata cannot be discerned by seeing his perfectly-formed body. Why? What the Tathāgata calls a perfectly-formed body is not a perfectly-formed body. Hence it is called a perfectly-formed body."

"Subhūti, what do you think? Can the Tathāgata be discerned by his perfect bodily characteristics?"

"No, World Honored One. The Tathāgata cannot be discerned by his perfect bodily characteristics. Why? Those characteristics that the Tathāgata has called 'perfect' are actually not perfect. Therefore he says that these characteristics are perfect."


21. No dharma is dharma; non-sentient beings are sentient beings

[Chinese Source Text]

Subhūti, do not think such a thought as "I [the Tathāgata] have something to teach." Do not even think such a thing. Why not? If someone says that the Tathāgata has a teaching to offer then he is slandering the Buddha, because he does not understand what I am teaching. Subhūti, in the teaching of the dharma, there is no dharma that can be taught. This is called teaching the dharma.

Then Insight-Life Subhūti said to the Buddha: "World Honored One. Might there at some time in the future be sentient beings who will gain faith upon hearing this discourse?"

The Buddha said, "Subhūti, they will not be sentient beings, and they will not be non-sentient beings. Why? Subhūti, the Tathāgata has taught that 'sentient beings' are not sentient beings. Thus they are called sentient beings."


22. The attainability of peerless perfect enlightenment

[Chinese Source Text]

Subhūti said to the Buddha: "World Honored One. When the buddhas attain peerless perfect enlightenment, is it the case that actually nothing is attained?"

"Exactly right. Subhūti, as far as peerless perfect enlightenment is concerned, I have not attained the slightest thing. This is why it is called peerless perfect enlightenment."


23. The role of good factors

[Chinese Source Text]

"Furthermore, Subhūti, this state is equal, have neither high or low. Therefore it is called peerless perfect enlightenment. When one, not abiding in the notions of self, person, sentient being, and lifespan, cultivates all kinds of good factors, then one attains peerless perfect enlightenment. Subhūti, the Tathāgata says that these so-called 'good factors' are not good factors. Therefore they are called good factors."


24. Merits of transmitting the sūtra: far greater than those of charity

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, if there were a person who accumulated the seven jewels in mounds equivalent to all the Mt. Sumerus in the worlds of three thousand galaxies and gave them away charitably, the merit gained by such a person, compared to that of someone who memorized, recited, and explained to others as much as a four-line verse of this scripture of transcendent wisdom, would not amount to a hundredth. Nor would it amount to billionth part. In fact, no metaphor of number is capable of describing this difference in merit."


25. No sentient beings for the Tathāgata to save

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, what do you think? You should not claim that the Tathāgata thinks 'I will save sentient beings.' Subhūti, do not think such a thing. Why? There are in fact no sentient beings for the Tathāgata to save. If there were sentient beings for the Tathāgata to save, it would mean that the Tathāgata holds the notions of self, person, sentient being, and life span. Subhūti, when the Tathāgata says 'I,' there is actually no ' I.' Yet immature beings take this to be an I. Subhūti, as far as immature beings are concerned, the Tathāgata says that they are not immature beings."


26. Trying to discern the Buddha by his bodily characteristics

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, what do you think? Can one discern the Tathāgata by means of the thirty-two bodily characteristics?"

Subhūti said, "Yes, yes. One discerns the Tathāgata by means of the thirty-two bodily characteristics."

The Buddha said, "Subhūti, if one discerns the Tathāgata by means of the thirty-two bodily characteristics, then the wheel-turning sage kings (temporal rulers) are Tathāgatas."

Subhūti said to the Buddha, "World Honored One, as I understand the gist of what you have said, one should not try to discern the Tathāgata by means of the thirty-two bodily characteristics."

Then the World Honored One spoke in a verse:

Someone who tries to discern me in form

Or seek me in sound

Is practicing non-Buddhist methods

And will not discern the Tathāgata


27. Attainment of enlightenment based on bodily characteristics

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, if you think that the Tathāgata attains peerless perfect enlightenment based on the perfection of bodily characteristics, then, Subhūti, you should not think like this, because the Tathāgata does not attain peerless perfect enlightenment based on the perfection of bodily characteristics. Subhūti, if you think that one who gives rise to peerless perfect enlightenment claims the extinction of all marks of phenomena, you should not think like this. Why? The person who gives rise to the intention for peerless perfect enlightenment does not claim the extinction of the marks of phenomena."


28. Bodhisattvas do not appropriate merit

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, if a bodhisattva filled worlds as many as the grains of sand in the Ganges river, and another bodhisattva perfected his forbearance based on the awareness of the selflessness of all phenomena, the merit gained by this bodhisattva would exceed that of the former. Subhūti, this is because the bodhisattvas do not experience merit."

Subhūti said to the Buddha: "World Honored One, how is it that the bodhisattva does not experience merit?"

"Subhūti, the merit generated by the bodhisattvas is not to be appropriated by them. Therefore I say that they do not experience merit."


29. The Thus-come One doesn't come or go

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, if someone says that the Tathāgata ( 'Thus-come One' ) comes, goes, sits, or lies down, this person does not understand the point of my teaching. Why? The Thus-come One has no place from whence he comes, and no place to go. Therefore he is called 'Thus-come.' "


30. The status of composite things

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, what do you think? If a good son or good daughter were to take all the worlds contained in three thousand galaxies and crush them into tiny particles, would these particles not be numerous?"

"Extremely numerous, World Honored One. And why? If these numerous tiny particles had real existence, the Buddha would not call them numerous tiny particles. What does this mean? Those things that the Buddha calls 'numerous tiny particles' are not numerous tiny particles. Therefore they are called numerous tiny particles. World Honored One. That which the Tathāgata calls 'all the worlds in three thousand galaxies' are actually not worlds. Therefore they are called worlds. Why? To the extent that these worlds really exist, they do so as a composite. The Tathāgata teaches that composites are not composites. Therefore they are called composites."

"Subhūti, a composite is something that is ineffable. Only immature beings attach to such phenomena."


31. Wrapping up the four views

[Chinese Source Text]

"Subhūti, if someone claims that I teach the view of self, view of person, view of sentient being, or view of life span, what would you say? Has this person understood the point of my teaching?"

"World Honored One, this person has not understood the point of the Tathāgata's teaching. Why? What the World Honored One has explained as the view of self, view of person, view of sentient being, and view of life span, are actually not a view of self, view of person, view of sentient being, or view of life span. Therefore they are called view of self, view of person, view of sentient being, and view of life span."

"Subhūti, the person who gives rise to the aspiration for peerless perfect enlightenment, should, in regard to all phenomena, think like this, discern like this, and believe and understand like this. One should not give rise to signs for phenomena. Subhūti, the Tathāgata has explained that these so-called signs of phenomena are precisely not signs of phenomena. Therefore they are called signs of phenomena."


32. Conclusion

[Chinese Source Text]

Subhūti, if there were a person who took the amount of the seven jewels in numberless, countless worlds and gave them away charitably, and there were also a good son or good daughter who gave rise to the bodhisattva's aspiration, taking just a four line verse of this scripture, memorizing it, reciting it, and teaching it to others, this person's merit would exceed that of the former. How should one teach it to others? Without grasping to signs, staying with things as they are, immovable. Why?

All conditioned phenomena

Are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, a shadow

Like the dew, or like lightning

You should discern them like this

The Buddha concluded his delivery of this scripture. The elder Subhūti, along with all the other monks, nuns, male and female lay practitioners, all the worlds of celestials, men, and titans, having heard this teaching of the Buddha, experienced great bliss. They believed, memorized, and practiced according to the Scripture of the Diamond Transcendent Wisdom Scripture.


Notes

1. Hanh interprets, "for five hundred lifetimes;" Price says "sometime during my last five hundred lives;" Conze gives "for five hundred births." [back]

Copyright © Charles Muller— 2004


Last modified: Mon Sep 10 12:14:48 JST 2012