This translation of The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion, sometimes known simply as The Diamond Sutra, has been prepared by Thich Nhat Hanh from the Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra (in Sanskrit), and the Chinese Taisho Revised Tripitaka, No.335. The Opening Gatha was composed by Thich Nhat Hanh to precede the translation.
This sutra appears in Thich Nhat Hanh, Chanting from the Heart (Parallax Press, Rev.Ed., 2006)
It is recited regularly at Plum Village Practice Centers around the world, as part of our daily sitting and chanting sessions. For further commentary on this text, please see Thich Nhat Hanh, The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion (Parallax Press, Rev.Ed., 2010)
The Diamond That Cuts through Illusion
How may we overcome the fear of birth and death
and arrive at the state that is as indestructible as a diamond?
What way can direct us in our practice
to sweep away our thousands of illusions?
If the awakened mind shows its compassion
and opens up for us the treasure store,
then we may bring into our lives
the wonderful diamond teachings.
This is what I heard one time when the Buddha was staying in the monastery in Anathapindika’s park in the Jeta Grove near Shravasti with a community of 1,250 bhikshus, fully ordained monks.
That day, when it was time to make the almsround, the Buddha put on his sanghati robe and, holding his bowl, went into the city of Shravasti to beg for food, going from house to house. When the almsround was completed, he returned to the monastery to eat the midday meal. Then he put away his sanghati robe and his bowl, washed his feet, arranged his cushion, and sat down.
At that time, the Venerable Subhuti stood up, bared his right shoulder, put his knee on the ground, and, folding his palms respectfully, said to the Buddha, “World-Honored One, it is rare to find someone like you. You always support and show special confidence in the bodhisattvas.
“World-Honored One, if sons and daughters of good families want to give rise to the highest, most fulfilled, awakened mind, what should they rely on and what should they do to master their thinking?”
The Buddha said to Subhuti, “This is how the Bodhisattva Mahasattvas master their thinking: ‘However many species of living beings there are—whether born from eggs, from the womb, from moisture, or spontaneously; whether they have form or do not have form; whether they have perceptions or do not have perceptions; or whether it cannot be said of them that they have perceptions or that they do not have perceptions, we must lead all these beings to nirvana so that they can be liberated. Yet when this innumerable, immeasurable, infinite number of beings has become liberated, we do not, in truth, think that a single being has been liberated.’
“Why is this so? If, Subhuti, a bodhisattva holds on to the idea that a self, a person, a living being, or a life span exists, that person is not a true bodhisattva.
“Moreover, Subhuti, when a bodhisattva practices generosity, he does not rely on any object—any form, sound, smell, taste, tactile object, or dharma—to practice generosity. That, Subhuti, is the spirit in which a bodhisattva practices generosity, not relying on signs. Why? If a bodhisattva practices generosity without relying on signs, the happiness that results cannot be conceived of or measured. Subhuti, do you think that the space in the Eastern Quarter can be measured?
“No, World-Honored One.”
“Subhuti, can space in the Western, Southern, or Northern Quarters, above or below be measured?”
“No, World-Honored One.”
“Subhuti, if a bodhisattva does not rely on any concept while practicing generosity, the happiness that results from that virtuous act is as great as space. It cannot be measured. Subhuti, the bodhisattvas should let their minds dwell in the teachings I have just given.
“What do you think, Subhuti? Is it possible to grasp the Tathagata by means of bodily signs?”
“No, World-Honored One. When the Tathagata speaks of bodily signs, there are no signs being talked about.”
The Buddha said to Subhuti, “In a place where there is something that can be distinguished by signs, in that place there is deception. If you can see the signless nature of signs, you can see the Tathagata.”
The Venerable Subhuti said to the Buddha, “In times to come, will there be people who, when they hear these teachings, have real faith and confidence in them?”
The Buddha replied, “Do not speak that way, Subhuti. Five hundred years after the Tathagata has passed away, there will still be people who appreciate the joy and happiness that come from observing the precepts. When such people hear these words, they will have faith and confidence that this is the truth. Know that such people have sown seeds not only during the lifetime of one Buddha, or even two, three, four, or five Buddhas, but have, in fact, planted wholesome seeds during the lifetimes of tens of thousands of Buddhas. Anyone who, for even a moment, gives rise to a pure and clear confidence upon hearing these words of the Tathagata, the Tathagata sees and knows that person, and he or she will attain immeasurable happiness because of this understanding. Why?
“Because that person is not caught in the idea of a self, a person, a living being, or a life span. He or she is not caught in the idea of a dharma or the idea of a non-dharma. He or she is not caught in the notion that this is a sign and that is not a sign. Why? If you are caught in the idea of a dharma, you are also caught in the ideas of a self, a person, a living being, and a life span. If you are caught in the idea that there is no dharma, you are still caught in the ideas of a self, a person, a living being, and a life span. That is why we should not get caught in dharmas or in the idea that dharmas do not exist. This is the hidden meaning when the Tathagata says, ‘Bhikshus, you should know that all of the teachings I give to you are a raft.’ All teachings must be abandoned, not to mention non-teachings.”
The Buddha asked Subhuti, “In ancient times when the Tathagata practiced under the guidance of the Buddha Dipankara, did the Tathagata attain anything?”
Subhuti answered, “No, World-Honored One. In ancient times when the Tathagata practiced under the guidance of the Buddha Dipankara, he did not attain anything.”
“What do you think, Subhuti? Does a bodhisattva create a serene and beautiful Buddha field?”
“No, World-Honored One. Why? To create a serene and beautiful Buddha field is not in fact to create a serene and beautiful Buddha field. That is why it is called creating a serene and beautiful Buddha field.”
The Buddha said, “So, Subhuti, all the Bodhisattva Mahasattvas should give rise to a pure and clear intention in this spirit. When they give rise to this intention, they should not rely on forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile objects, or objects of mind. They should give rise to an intention with their minds not dwelling anywhere.”
“So, Subhuti, when a bodhisattva gives rise to the unequaled mind of awakening, he has to give up all ideas. He cannot rely on forms when he gives rise to that mind, nor on sounds, smells, tastes, tactile objects, or objects of mind. He can only give rise to the mind that is not caught in anything.
“The Tathagata has said that all notions are not notions and that all living beings are not living beings. Subhuti, the Tathagata is one who speaks of things as they are, speaks what is true, and speaks in accord with reality. He does not speak deceptively or to please people. Subhuti, if we say that the Tathagata has realized a teaching, that teaching is neither graspable nor deceptive.
“Subhuti, a bodhisattva who still depends on notions to practice generosity is like someone walking in the dark. She will not see anything. But when a bodhisattva does not depend on notions to practice generosity, she is like someone with good eyesight walking under the bright light of the sun. She can see all shapes and colors.
“Subhuti, do not say that the Tathagata has the idea, ‘I will bring living beings to the shore of liberation.’ Do not think that way, Subhuti. Why? In truth there is not one single being for the Tathagata to bring to the other shore. If the Tathagata were to think there was, he would be caught in the idea of a self, a person, a living being, or a life span. Subhuti, what the Tathagata calls a self essentially has no self in the way that ordinary persons think there is a self. Subhuti, the Tathagata does not regard anyone as an ordinary person. That is why he can call them ordinary persons.
“What do you think, Subhuti? Can someone meditate on the Tathagata by means of the thirty-two marks?”
Subhuti said, “Yes, World-Honored One. We should use the thirty-two marks to meditate on the Tathagata.”
The Buddha said, “If you say that you can use the thirty-two marks to see the Tathagata, then the Cakravartin is also a Tathagata?”
Subhuti said, “World-Honored One, I understand your teaching. One should not use the thirty-two marks to meditate on the Tathagata.”
Then the World-Honored One spoke this verse:
“Someone who looks for me in form
or seeks me in sound
is on a mistaken path
and cannot see the Tathagata.”
“Subhuti, if you think that the Tathagata realizes the highest, most fulfilled, awakened mind and does not need to have all the marks, you are wrong. Subhuti, do not think in that way. Do not think that when one gives rise to the highest, most fulfilled, awakened mind, one needs to see all objects of mind as nonexistent, cut off from life. Do not think in that way. One who gives rise to the highest, most fulfilled, awakened mind does not say that all objects of mind are nonexistent and cut off from life.”
After they heard the Lord Buddha deliver this discourse, the Venerable Subhuti, the bhikshus and bhikshunis, laymen and laywomen, and gods and asuras, filled with joy and confidence, began to put these teachings into practice.
Vajracchedika Prajñaparamita Sutra
Taisho Revised Tripitaka 335
The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion
The Diamond Sutra offers the Buddha’s insights on dualism and illusion. He speaks of how to develop the insight, the “diamond,” that can cut through any obstacle on the road to enlightenment.
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