A Diamond Sutra

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This is how I heard it:

Buddha was staying in a park in Jeta Grove. One day after returning from begging, he sat down to meditate. Monks camping with him approached.

An old monk named Subhuti kneeled before the Buddha and said,

“Teacher, it is awesome how much wisdom you have shared with us. You have helped us and cared for us so selflessly. What would you say to people who aren’t monks, who would set sail on the Ocean of Perfect Wisdom? How should they cease their craving and still their restless minds?”

The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“I have given you monks my care, attention, and my best instruction. Now I will tell you how people who aren’t monks can set sail on the Ocean of Perfect wisdom, ceasing their craving, and stilling their restless minds.”

“To set sail on the Ocean of Perfect Wisdom an aspiring bodhisattva must liberate all living beings. Whether born from eggs or womb, by water or by miracle; whether they have form or not, awareness or not; all beings must be freed from the cycle of birth and death. But even if a bodhisattva liberates these numberless beings, in truth not a single being has been liberated.”

“‘How can this be?’ you might ask. Because if a bodhisattva clings to the notion of beings, they are caught in the illusion of separateness. They cling to form as external. They cling to self as eternal. They can liberate nothing.”

“Moreover, the bodhisattva’s gift of liberation cannot be signed. It cannot be seen by eyes, heard by ears, felt by fingers, tasted by tongue, or smelled by nose. The gift of liberation leaves no mark but its merit is without measure.”

“Can one package East? Can one wrap West? How about South? Or North? Up? Down? The ten directions? No. And the merit of the gift of liberation cannot be contained. True bodhisattvas give without a trace. Let those who would set sail on the Ocean of Perfect Wisdom be guided by this teaching.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Will a person’s body prove they are a bodhisattva? Will they display physical marks of liberation? No. Form is fraud. When you realize there is no body to liberate, you will touch your buddha-nature.”


Subhuti asked the Buddha:

“Dear teacher, when we are dead and gone, will these teachings be enough to awaken new bodhisattvas?”

The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Fear not, Subhuti. Even five centuries from now, wise men and women will seek out these teachings and thereby discover their buddha natures. And these seekers will not benefit from the teachings of just one Buddha. They will inherit the incalculable merit of hundreds of thousands of bodhisattvas who came after. Their buddha-nature will spontaneously awaken.”

“Why? They will not mistake their ego and impermanent selves for teachers. Rather they will realize that these teachings are a raft for setting sail on the Ocean of Perfect Wisdom.”


“Tell me Subhuti,” the Buddha said, “which teachings allowed me to attain awakening?”

Subhuti replied, “Your awakening was beyond teachings and no-teachings. It was an experience unsayable and untouchable.”


Buddha asked Subhuti:

“If these people who are not monks used all their powers to fill a thousand million worlds with wheels, elephants, horses, jewels, queens, ministers, and generals, and then offered those worlds as a gift to the Buddha, wouldn’t they generate tremendous merit?”

“Then let’s say one of these people who are not monks instead took just four lines from this teaching and gave it to someone else. Since it is the pure, direct teaching of the Buddha, wouldn’t they generate even more merit?

“No. There is no merit. There are no teachings. And the Buddha is nothing special.”


The Buddha asked Subhuti:

“If a bodhisattva sets sail on the Ocean of Perfect Wisdom, do they say, ‘at last, I’ve set sail.’?”

“No,” replied Subhuti. “A bodhisattva sailing on the Ocean of Perfect Wisdom would not perceive any separation between themselves and the sea. Only those who have surrendered thought, emotion, sensory input, and mental formations can truly sail the Ocean of Perfect Wisdom.”

“Then what about I, the Buddha? Shall I claim perfect liberation?’

“No,” replied Subhuti. “There is no Buddha, and there is no perfect liberation to obtain.”

Subhuti continued, “And although you, the Buddha yourself, have declared ‘Subhuti is free of craving and dwells in peace.’ It should mean nothing to me. There is no craving or freedom from craving. There is no one who dwells or who does not dwell in peace. There is no Subhuti separate from Subhuti.”


“What about this, Subhuti?” asked the Buddha. “Did some teaching I learned in a past life cause me to become the Buddha in this one?”

“No,” answered Subhuti.

The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“So, then, if a bodhisattva says, ‘I will create a Pure Land,’ they are speaking from confusion. The Pure Land that can be created is not a Pure Land.”

“The bodhisattva’s mind must rest in emptiness—beyond thoughts, emotions, sensory input, and mental concepts.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Now suppose there is a person with an enormous body. Would that person also reckon their personal existence to be enormous? “

“Yes,” answered Subhuti. “But there is no existence or non-existence. Enormous is just a label.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Imagine the grains of sand in the river Ganges. Now imagine many rivers Ganges, equal to the number of those grains of sands. Rivers upon rivers. Now imagine all the grains of sand in all those many rivers. That would be a lot of grains of sand, right?”

“Yes,” said Subhuti, “So many grains of sand.”

“If these people who are not monks,” the Buddha continued, “used all their powers to fill as many worlds as there are those grains of sand with wheels, elephants, horses, jewels, queens, ministers, and generals, and then offered those worlds as a gift to the Buddha, wouldn’t they generate tremendous merit?”

“Yes,” replied Subhuti, “Great big heaps of merit.”

“Then consider this,” said the Buddha, “If these men and women who are not monks took just one phrase from one verse of these teachings and embodied it and shared it to liberate others, the merit would be even greater.”

“And the place where they shared one phrase from one verse of these teachings would become hallowed ground. Sacred to gods and men alike. So imagine then if they recited the entire teaching? Blessings would rain down and the living presence of the Buddha and bodhisattvas would be enshrined among them.”


Subhuti asked the Buddha:

“What should I call this teaching to help me remember it?”

The Buddha replied:

“This teaching can be called ‘Diamond-Wisdom for Piercing All Delusion.’ Remember it by that name.”

“And why? That which the Buddha has taught for piercing delusion has not pierced all delusion. That’s why this teaching is ‘Diamond-Wisdom for Piercing All Delusion.” Do you think, Subhuti, there is any dharma in this teaching?”

“No,” replied Subhuti, “there is not.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Consider how many particles of dust exist in our system of a thousand million worlds. Are there many?”

“Yes,’ Subhuti answered. “There are many.”

“But the particles of dust I teach,” said the Buddha, “are not particles of dust. And the thousand million worlds I teach are not worlds. ‘Particles’ and ‘worlds’ are just words.”

The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Do you think the body of the Buddha can be distinguished by the 32 marks of one who has gone beyond?”

“No,” answered Subhuti, “And why? Because the 32 marks of one who has gone beyond are not the 32 marks of one who has gone beyond. The ’32 marks’ are just words.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Now suppose if one of these people who are not monks gave away every treasure they owned as many times as there are grains of sand in the Ganges. And now suppose one of these people who are not monks embodied just one line of these teachings for the liberation of others. The gift of the second would generate merit far greater than the first and without measure.”


Suddenly the truth of this teaching pierced Subhuti, and he was moved to tears.

Wiping his eyes Subhuti said:

“Wonderful, wonderful. Never before have I heard such teaching. It has pierced through my delusions, which are not delusions. It is not difficult for me to understand this, because you are the one teaching. What happens 500 years from now? Who will teach this dharma to awaken and bless those who cling to their perception of self?”

The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Don’t worry, old friend. Those who hear this teaching will not tremble or be afraid but will be blessed. And why? This teaching IS the Diamond-Wisdom that Cuts Through All Delusion. It is drawn directly from the Ocean of Perfect Wisdom, sailed by all Buddhas throughout space and time.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“The Buddha’s perfection of patience is no perfection. If the king of Kalinga sliced the limbs from my body and the flesh from my limbs, and if claiming perfection of patience I clung to a perception of self? I would quickly fall into anger and hatred.”

“And if I looked back through five hundred lifetimes spent as a sage working toward the perfection of patience, if I still cling to a perception of self, there will be no perfection of patience.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Therefore, when a bodhisattva has let go of all perceptions, then it is time to rest the mind in the Ocean of Perfected Wisdom. Not holding on to sight, sound, or smell, to touch or to taste. Empty of concepts or stories. Free of dharma and not-dharma. From this place a bodhisattva can truly give.”

“And that, Subhuti, is how I would have bodhisattvas give–from a place empty of perception. Because a bodhisattva perceiving itself is not a bodhisattva. The perception of a being is not a being. Why? Because the Buddha speaks only of reality, and I do not lie.”

“And yet,” the Buddha continued, “concerning this teaching, there is no truth and there is no fraud.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“A person in the dark night cannot see. So it is when a bodhisattva caught in the perception of form tries to give to another what was gifted to them. When the dark night is broken by the sun, a person can see the world. So it is for a bodhisattva free from the perception of form to give to others that which was gifted to them.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“So if these people who are not monks take up this teaching, study it, memorize it, embody it for the liberation of others–then they will have touched Buddha-nature. They will obtain vast merit.”

“If one of these people who are not monks were to give away all their belongings every morning for as many mornings as there are grains of sand in the Ganges river; and if they did the same for every noon and every evening for as many noons and evenings as there are grains of sand in the Ganges river; and if this took thousands of millions of aeons, that one would not receive as much merit as one who receives this teaching just once. What merit, then, awaits one who would study this teaching, memorize it, and embody it for the liberation of others?”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“This incomprehensible, inconceivable teaching is the most excellent vehicle for setting sail on the Ocean of Perfect Wisdom. Those who study it, memorize it, and embody it for the liberation of others will be blessed with limitless merit and will know awakening. Those who cannot, those who still cling to perception of self, they will not be able to study it, memorize it, or embody it for the liberation of others. Awakening will elude them.”

“Moreover, Subhuti, wherever this teaching is transmitted will become sacred ground. The very spot will become like a shrine worthy of reverence, circumambulated by celestial and earthly beings alike. And those people who are not monks? When they take up this teaching and study it, memorize it, and embody it for the liberation of others, they will undo the karma of lifetimes. Karma that would lead them into future states of woe in this very lifetime will be released, and they will touch their Buddha-nature and awaken.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“If in a past lifetime–long before Dipankara, aeons before my awakening under the pippala tree–if I served 84 million-million buddhas, never once losing their favor, imagine the immeasurable merit I would have attained. Imagine five hundred years from now, people who are not monks will take up this teaching and study it, memorize it, and embody it for the liberation of others. All the merit I attained serving 84 million-million buddhas without ever losing their favor is not one-hundredth part, not one-thousandth part, nor a one hundred thousandth part, not a ten-millionth part, nor a one hundred millionth part, nor a millionth-millionth part of the merit those people in the future will attain. If I revealed the amount of merit they will earn, all beings throughout space and time would become frantic and crazed.”


Subhuti asked the Buddha:

“How should one set out to become a bodhisattva?”

The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“If someone sets out by vowing ‘As a bodhisattva, I will liberate all beings from suffering,’ then no beings shall be liberated. Why? Because if a person sets out with a perception of themself as a bodhisattva, they are not a bodhisattva and it is not in their power to liberate others.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Could any dharma have awakened me in any of my past lives?”

“No,” Subhuti answered, “If you clung to perception of self, no dharma could have awakened you in any of your past lives.”

The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“That’s why Dipankara, the great being I served aeons ago, predicted awakening would only come in the lifetime when my name was Shakyamuni.”

“And why? Shakyamuni is called Buddha and Buddha is synonymous with awakening. But if someone claimed the dharma of the Buddha leads to perfect awakening they would be lying. And why? There is no dharma and there is no Buddha and there is no lie or truth. Dharma, Buddha, lie, and truth are just words. Just like the man I described as enormous earlier. Enormous is not the man. Enormous is just a word.”


Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Any bodhisattva who vows, ‘I will liberate all beings from suffering,” is not a bodhisattva. And why? Because dharma liberates, dharma is selfless and independent of personality.”

“In the same way, any bodhisattva who claims, “I will establish harmonious Pure Lands,” is not a bodhisattva. And why? Because there are no Pure Lands to establish. Pure Lands are just words.”

“Any bodhisattva who holds the dharma without self-perception, that is a great bodhisattva.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Do I have human eyes?”

“Yes,” Subhuti answered. “You have human eyes.”

The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Do I have the wisdom and compassion eyes of a Buddha?”

“Yes,” Subhuti answered. “You have the wisdom and compassion eyes of a Buddha.”

The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Have I previously used the example of grains of sand in the Ganges?”

“Yes,” Subhuti answered. “You have used that example several times.”

The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Well then, if there were as many Ganges rivers as there are grains of sand in the Ganges and as many worlds as there are grains of sands in all those rivers, that would be a lot of worlds, correct?”

“Yes,” Subhuti answered. “Many, many worlds.”

“And I know the minds of all beings who inhabit all of those worlds no matter the mode or matter of their thoughts. And what I know of these minds, across all space and time, is that not one can hold onto a thought that has passed, hold onto a thought that is happening now, or hold on to any thought that will arise.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“If these people who are not monks used all their powers to fill a thousand million worlds with wheels, elephants, horses, jewels, queens, ministers, and generals, and then offered those worlds as a gift to the Buddha, wouldn’t they generate tremendous merit?”

“Yes,” answered Subhuti, “Tremendous merit.”

“On the other hand,” said the Buddha, “there is no tremendous merit. ‘Tremendous merit’ are just words.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“So let’s review. Is the Buddha known by his physical form?”

“No,” answered Subhuti, “‘physical form’ are just words.”

The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Is the Buddha identified by the possession of physical marks?”

“No,” answered Subhuti, “‘physical marks’ are just words.”

The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“And if someone should say, “the Buddha has demonstrated great dharma,” they would be lying, for they are seizing on to what is not there. There is no dharma, there is no demonstration, and there is no Buddha to cling to.”


Subhuti asked the Buddha:

“Five hundred years from now, will anyone hear this teaching and believe it?”

The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Neither beings or no-beings will hear this teaching and believe it. ‘Beings’ and ‘teaching’ are just words.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Could any dharma have awakened me in any of my past lives?”

“No,” Subhuti answered, “If you clung to perception of self, no dharma could have awakened you in any of your past lives.”

The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“So it is. But even if there was a wholesome dharma, right and perfect and tailored to lead to selflessness, it would still be no dharma. ‘Wholesome dharma’ are just words.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Imagine if one of these people who are not monks piled up wheels, elephants, horses, jewels, queens, ministers, and generals in heaps as tall as Sumerus, the mountain king, and imagine if they did this in a thousand million worlds and then offered those worlds as a gift to the Buddha. Now imagine if one of these people who are not monks takes up just one verse of this teaching and studies it, memorizes it, and embodies it for the liberation of others. The merit of the first will not even be a hundredth part of that attained by the second.


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Do you think it occurs to the Buddha, ‘by me all beings have been set free?’ Please do not think so. If there are any beings set free that would mean a Buddha set them free. That would mean clinging to a perception of beings and a perception of self. But by now you know, there are no beings and there is no self to cling to. Anyone who thinks it occurs to the Buddha, ‘by me all beings have been set free,’ is foolish.


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Do you think the Buddha can be recognized by possession of the 32 physical marks?”

Subhuti answered:

“As I understand it from your own teachings, no. The Buddha cannot be recognized by the 32 physical marks. For in the past you have taught:

“Those who saw and followed after my form and those who heard and followed after my voice, they are engaged in a fool’s errand and will never see me. The Buddha is revealed by Dharma and guidance comes from the dharma body. The dharma’s true nature is unknowable and no one who holds it as an object will awaken to it.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“Don’t think, though, that the Buddha who has the highest, most fulfilled, awakened mind doesn’t also need to have the marks. Those who set sail on the Ocean of Perfect Wisdom need not treat objects of mind as non-existent or cut off from life. Those who set sail on the Ocean of Perfect Wisdom omit not a single dharma.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“If one of these people who are not monks collected wheels, elephants, horses, jewels, queens, ministers, and generals equal to the number of grains of sand on the banks of the Ganges and gave them to Buddhas, Arhats, and enlightened ones, but another realizes the selflessness of a Bodhisattva, the latter would receive more benefit than one who practiced giving to earn merit.”

“Why is this?” asked Subhuti.

“Because great disciples do not see treasures as their private possessions to give. They know all that is belongs equally to all beings.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“If one of these persons who is not a monk were to say, ‘The Buddha is coming now.’ or ‘There goes the Buddha.’ or ‘The Budhha is awakened.” Would they have understood my teaching?”

“No,” said Subhuti. “For though the word Buddha means one who comes, one who goes, one who is awakened, there is no Buddha coming or going anywhere. ‘Buddha’ is just a word.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“If one of these persons who is not a monk had the ability to take 3000 galaxies, pulverize them into stardust, and then blow that stardust into space, would the stardust have any independent existence?”

Subhuti answered, “Perhaps the stardust could be said to have relative existence, but ‘stardust’ is just a word, and 3000 galaxies is just an idea.”

“Exactly,” replied the Buddha. “The perception of 3000 galaxies and the concept of stardust have no true basis. They are constructs of the mortal mind. Verbal expressions empty of knowing. What is galaxy and what is stardust is beyond knowing, beyond saying, beyond dharma and no-dharma.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“If one of these persons who is not a monk claimed that I always refer to myself, or to others, to sentient beings, or to the Universal self, have the understood my teaching?”

“Alas not,” replied Subhuti. “You, others, sentient beings, event the Universal self are just words, just concepts, just ideas.”

“Exactly, my old friend,” agreed the Buddha. “When people strive for enlightenment, they do not understand that everything they see, perceive, and know as spiritual truths are empty concepts, hollow ideas. To wake up means to abandon all arbitrary concepts of the mind.”


The Buddha said to Subhuti:

“If one of these people who are not monks collected wheels, elephants, horses, jewels, queens, ministers, and generals to fill the entire universe and gave them to the Buddha, but another observed just a single line of this sutra and shared it with others, the latter would receive far greater merit.”

Subhuti asked the Buddha, “How can anyone share this sutra without becoming bogged down with perceptions, concepts, and ideas?”

“Ah,” replied the Buddha, “it can only be done by one who sets sail on the Ocean of Perfect Wisdom with a mind illuminated and free from attachment.”

“Here, Sabhuti, is how to contemplate our existence in this flickering world:

as a bubble in a stream as a flash of summer lightning as a dew drop on a dandelion as drifting clouds as a guttering flame as stars disappearing into dawn this is right view of conditioned things

Sabhuti, upon hearing all this spoken by the Buddha, was filled with delight and great joy. He immediately embodied the teaching to the great benefit of all gathered.

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