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Wisdom for liberation from suffering

Diamond Sutra"Hidden for centuries in a sealed-up cave in north-west China, the 'Diamond Sutra' is one of the world's earliest complete dated and printed books now housed in the British Library, London which oddly claims authorship.

The scroll was found in 1907 by the archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein in a walled-up cave at the 'Caves of the Thousand Buddhas', near Dunhuang, in North-West China. It was one of a small number of printed items among many thousands of manuscripts, comprising a library which must have been sealed up in about AD 1000. Although not the earliest example of blockprinting, it is the earliest which bears an actual date.

It was printed in AD 868 from carved wooden blocks on seven strips of yellow-stained paper and pasted together to form a scroll over 5m long. Written in Chinese, the text is one of the most important sacred Buddhist works.

The colophon, at the inner end, reads: 'Reverently [caused to be] made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 13th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong [i.e. 11th May, AD 868]'. "

The Diamond Sutra, a discourse between Buddha and his followers.

This is what I have heard:

Once, the Buddha was staying at Anathapindika's retreat in the Jeta Grove near the city of Sravasti, with a gathering of 1250 monks. After dressing and making his begging rounds in the city and eating his one meal, he sat with the monks.

The monk Subhuti paid his respects to the Buddha and asked a question:

"What should one who wants to travel the Bodhisattva path keep in mind?"

The Buddha answered:

"A Bodhisattva* should keep this in mind: All creatures, whether they are born from the womb or hatched from the egg, whether they transform like butterflies or arise miraculously, whether they have a body or are purely spirits, whether they are capable of thought or not capable of thought: All of these I vow to help enter nirvana before I rest there myself!" But keep in mind, Subhuti, that in reality there is no such thing as an I who helps, and no such thing as an other whom I help. A Bodhisattva who does not recognize this reality is no true Bodhisattva!

"A true Bodhisattva takes no pleasure in this act of compassion and has no interest in appearances. He simply helps others selflessly." Can you measure the east, the west, the north, and the south, Subhuti?"

"No, Lord."

"Neither can you measure the merit of someone who can help others without thought of himself."

"Subhuti! Can anyone tell who is a Buddha on the basis of physical characteristics?"

"No, Lord. You have taught that Buddhahood is not a matter of physical characteristics." "So one who is concerned with appearances will never see the Buddha, but one is not concerned with appearances may."

Subhuti then asked, "Lord, will there always be people who understand your message?"

Buddha answered, "Don't doubt it, Subhuti! There will always be people who, hearing the message, will adhere to the precepts and practice our way. Our message will reach people simply because it is true! There will come a time when many will no longer need words, but will be beyond words. We must all strive to go beyond the words, because words can be clung to, and we should not cling to things. Understand that the words of the Buddha are like a raft built to cross a river: When its purpose is completed, it must be left behind if we are to travel further!

"So tell me, Subhuti. Have I taught the ultimate teaching?"

"No, Lord. The ultimate teaching is not something which can be taught, because the ultimate teaching is not a thing which can be grasped or clung to."

The Buddha said, "Tell me, Subhuti. If someone gave away a universe full of treasures to help others, would he gain great merit?"

"Yes, Lord. His merit would be great. But you have also taught us that, in order for this act of generosity to be genuine, he would not have thought of gaining merit. In fact, he would not have thought of himself at all!"

The Buddha said, "Now, if someone understands and passes on even four sentences of my message to another, his generosity is even greater. He is not just giving something, he is helping to create future Buddhas!"

"Tell me, Subhuti. Would someone who is beginning to understand my message say to himself 'I have accomplished something grand'?"

"No, Lord. Saying something like that would mean that the beginner doesn't understand that there is no ego there to take credit for anything at all!"

"And would someone who is highly advanced in his understanding of my message say to himself 'I have accomplished something grand'?"

"No, Lord. Anyone saying such a thing would also be saying that there is indeed an ego that attains something, and something to attain. These are not the thoughts of someone who understands your message.

"Lord, you have said that I have been successful in achieving peace and freedom from passions. In fact, I no longer crave the status of a saint. If I did, I am sure that you would never have thought so much of me!"

"Subhuti, If I say, "Bodhisattvas adorn the heavens," would I be speaking the truth?"

"No, Lord. Adornments are illusions, and illusions have no place in the heavens." And so Bodhisattvas should rid their minds of ego, and cease their preferences for one odour or another, one sound or another, one sight or another. A Bodhisattva should have no attachment or aversion to anything."

The Buddha asked, "Subhuti, if a man had a body as huge as a mountain, would he be a great man?"

"No, Lord. Because "a great man" is only words, and being a great man is an illusion, created by the belief in ego."

Then Subhuti asked the Buddha, "Lord, what shall we call this sermon?"

The Buddha answered, "Call it 'The Diamond Sutra on the Perfection of Wisdom." Like a diamond blade, it can cut through all delusion!"

Then Subhuti suddenly had a full awareness of the meaning of the sermon, and was moved to tears. "Lord, thank you for this sermon. Anyone who hears it and understands it with a pure mind will be moved by it. Even hundreds of years into the future, its clarity will be appreciated."

"Subhuti, if someone gave away enough treasure to fill a universe, he would still not gain as much merit as someone who manages to understand and pass on a few lines of this sermon." So what should be on one's mind as one begins the Bodhisattva journey?

"Like a falling star, like a bubble in a stream,
Like a flame in the wind, like frost in the sun,
Like a flash of lightning or a passing dream --
So should you understand the world of the ego.

"Subhuti and the rest of the monks were filled with joy at hearing the Buddha's sermon.

*Bodhisattva - an enlightened being who remains in this existence to help others, a saint.

Diamond Sutra Books and Commentaries
Diamond Sutra Discussion website.

Eight Steps to Happiness
The Diamond Sutra
The Heart of Wisdom Sutra
Buddhist Terminology

Om Mane Padme Hum


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