I would like to introduce you to some aspects of the Diamond Sutra which will perhaps make you want to read it and above all to practice it. A diamond is a most precious and rare thing. I have been told that there is a star 95 % of which is made of diamond…this does not render diamonds any less precious, as they are pure and their perfect structure guarantees a cohesion nothing can shatter. Consequently, diamonds are used for cutting the toughest materials. The Diamond Sutra explains that phenomena are not the ultimate reality, but much rather projections of our mind, illusions. If the practitioner sees the phenomena and activities of his mind for what they are, his mind detaches itself from them, liberates itself and finds peace once again. Understanding this sutra and putting it into practice will enable us to cut away even the forms we are most attached to and will lead us onto the other shore, that of liberation. That is why it is called the Diamond Sutra. During his lifetime, the Buddha made the wheel of the Dharma turn on three occasions. The first time, he formulated the Four Noble Truths, which all his life he continued to expound. The second time, on Vulture Peak, he proclaimed the emptiness of phenomena. The third time, finally, he taught that the mind is at the root of all things and that Buddha nature is present in all existences. The teachings commenced on Vulture Peak were to spread into forty sutras. They were brought together under the title of Prajna Paramita. Prajna generally is translated by “wisdom” or “knowledge” whilst paramita has the meaning of “he who goes beyond”. By “wisdom” we understand the ability to see reality as it is. This knowledge allows us to act appropriately and thus with wisdom. It is a dynamic way of functioning, an attitude of mind, and not something which we can obtain once and for all.
These forty sutras all deal with the same subject: the realisation of prajna. There is one of these sutras which is very short, which we know well; it is the one which we chant every morning, the Maka Hannya Haramita Shingyo (in Sanskrit: Maha Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra). This sutra is the heart of the Prajna Paramita; it summarises its essence in a powerful but rather abrupt manner: ” Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness is no other than form.” This second starting up of the Wheel of the Dharma is very subtle, very difficult to understand – and for that matter, when the Buddha started to explain it, some of his listeners did not understand, did not accept, got up and left. Seeing this, the Buddha prophesised that one day a monk would appear who would explain more clearly this notion of emptiness. It was to be Nagarjuna, the fourteenth patriarch. It was he who gave the Mahayana depth. The first starting of the Wheel of the Dharma is common to both the Mahayana and the Hinayana, but the second is particular to the Mahayana. In essence, what Nagarjuna says is that nirvana is nothing else but samsara. It is not something that one can attain, but it means becoming aware of the true nature of phenomena, a nature that is empty. The other sutra of the Prajna that is very well known is that of the Diamond, Kongokyo in Japanese. Its Sanskrit name is Vajra Chedika Prajna Paramita Sutra, the Sutra of sublime transcendent Knowledge, sharp as a diamond. As in the majority of sutras, Ananda recalls for us what he has heard. The Blessed One was at the time staying at Shravati; after having done his begging round, he sat down, assuming a noble posture. It was at that moment that Subuti approached him in order to ask him for a teaching. It is said that Subuti, a great disciple of the Buddha awakened when meditating on goodness and compassion, while nowadays he is known as the one who puts forward most clearly the doctrine of emptiness. Subuti, then, turns towards the Buddha and asks him: “O Blessed One, what behaviour must those adopt who have entered the vehicle of the bodhisattva? How must they practice?” It is a question that we all ask ourselves. Is awakening sufficient? Must we add something to this awakening in order to help others? The Buddha replies to him: “Listen carefully to what I am going to tell you and take it fully to heart… All these beings which people the universe, all without exception, are guided to nirvana by me, so that they may go beyond suffering. However, although they are innumerable, the bodhisattva will think that no sentient being has ever liberated itself from suffering. Why? Because, Subuti, if a bodhisattva came to conceive of the idea of a sentient being, the idea of an individual, he would no longer deserve the name of bodhisattva.” This is how the sutra starts. To the question on compassion that Subuti asks, the Buddha answers in terms of wisdom. He immediately defines what the prajna is: not to hold on to anything in the mind. Compassion and wisdom are inseparable, as prajna wisdom is nothing other than acceding to total knowledge of reality, without any separation from it. There follows during the whole sutra an invitation to consider the different aspects of the Way: to ponder the true nature of the Self, the right practice of the paramita, authentic spiritual progression and the subtle state of Buddhahood. All the Buddha’s answers aim at awakening Subuti to universal emptiness, an emptiness that Master Deshimaru translated interestingly as “existence without substance”. And above all, at the end of dealing with each one of the subjects, he warns him not to hold on to anything in the mind. That is why almost all the chapters finish in the same manner. For example:”…And so, Subuti, this reality of Buddha, the Tathagata says that it is not a reality of Buddha, that is why it is called reality of Buddha”. Or further on: “…what the Tathagata has shown as possession of the marks of excellence, he has declared to be a non-possession of non-marks. Consequently, it is called possession of marks.”
Or again: “…Subuti, what are called true qualities of virtue, the Tathagata declares them not to be virtuous qualities and yet it is clearly virtuous qualities that we are talking about.” These contradictory, subtle formulations, which are difficult to understand, remind us of the danger which lies in wait for us always and everywhere, namely, that we may block our consciousness with formulations of truth, however lofty they may be. It is very much a case of not confounding description with reality. To awaken, to clarify all aspects of our practice, that is the Way in itself. But it would be a mistake to keep these truths present in one’s mind. Nothing can be seized, nothing exists. The great danger is to want make Buddhism, the Way of Buddha, the Dharma into something. What is more, it is not something that can be seized, not seized by thought, even if the Buddha speaks with words, with concepts. Even if we are obliged to use words, the Way of the bodhisattva can not be “thingyfied”. Therefore, those who have a tendency to make something out of the self, of awakening, of Buddha, of the Dharma, to give a nature of substance to ultimate reality, those people run into danger, are taking the wrong direction. In this sutra, the Buddha deals with different subjects, but in fact he talks only about one and the same thing: awakening, which consists in seeing reality as it is. The sutra is punctuated by three poems. They are its high points and at the time its key moments; these are the stanzas pronounced by the Blessed One. At the end of chapter XXVI:
Those who see me in my form
Or hear me by my voice
Those do not see the Tathagata.
This poem puts the emphasis on the impossibility of taking hold of ultimate reality. Wise men have always loved the contact with nature; they loved retiring deep into the mountains. As a poet puts it: “The voice of the valley is no other than that of our master Shakyamuni. The shapes and the colours of the mountain are no other than his body.” This truth which is here put forward by the poet is an objective fact; we could even say a scientific one. But there the Buddha speaks to us of something else; he speaks to us of awakening to this reality, in this reality. Wanting to verify this objective fact, to attach oneself to forms and to sounds, to see with eyes that are filled with thoughts, filled with intentions, is the ordinary way of seeing. The Buddha asks us to see with the eyes of an awakened one. Dogen confirms this difference of vision in the chapter San Sui Kyo:” The awakened ones know that we must not confuse the mountains, the rivers in their original purity with the mountains and rivers.” Nature which reveals itself in its original purity to the awakened human being is that which is born and dies incessantly, that which comes as such, which appears and disappears of its own accord. Man with his ordinary mind , fixes the forms, attaches himself to them in order to analyse them, to comment on them, except when in zazen when he is hishiryo, then he is the Tathagata. Only the Tathagata sees the Tathagata: absolute reality, as in the poem which follows:
When seeing absolute reality we see Buddha.
As it is not an object of knowledge,
Absolute reality is not found
Within reach of ordinary consciousness.
The reality of Buddha is not an object of knowledge, an object of knowledge outside of oneself, something to get hold of or to enclose in concepts, nor even something that one can perceive. Ultimate reality cannot be seen in forms – neither heard, nor represented; it cannot be grasped by any one of the six senses. It demands, on the other hand, that the six senses be open, free of all obstruction.
“Can you hear the sound of the wind, the murmur of the river?…Enter the Way through that.” Enter the Way without getting stuck half-way through the door. All the doors of the senses must be open, but one must not get stuck in any one of them, neither intellectually, nor emotionally, nor by the senses. As Dogen puts it:” Do not be overwhelmed by the sonorities of spring nor saddened by the autumn colours”. It is only when our consciousness is totally fluid that it is without bond to the object. It is no longer obstructed by our preferences, when there is no longer an “I” who directs it. When consciousness flows freely without escaping into the fields of discriminating consciousness, at that moment, it is no longer liable to separation from mountains and rivers. At that moment, our Buddha nature becomes manifest. The mountain’s nature is Buddha nature, the nature of the human being is Buddha nature, but the mountain is the mountain and the human being is the human being. It is under these conditions that the encounter takes place and that the Buddha nature of the mountain echoes the Buddha nature of the human being. And this echo resounds into infinity. From echo to echo, the thought of awakening develops. Here it is a question only of the echo that Nature creates of itself; it is therefore quite without intention, without a place for the “I”, that consciousness flows freely, without clinging to anything. It is what Master Eno realised on hearing this truth. Thus, provided we do not grab hold of it, no form on our consciousness will screen us off, will turn us away from reality. That is how the sutra ends, in chapter XXXII, with the last poem:
All conditioned phenomena must be seen as shooting stars,
As insects flying or the flame of a lamp,
As a magic illusion,
A drop of dew or a bubble,
A dream, a flash of lightening or a cloud.
“It is on this condition, Subuti, that you can truly help liberate all existences and help them reach the dimension of Tathagata. Listen carefully, Subuti, if you stay attached to a form, to the idea that there is something to do, someone to save, you leave your role of bodhisattva”. It is this teaching that is the reason for the Diamond Sutra to be so highly thought of, because it is the gift of the dharma in its most important form, since it is here a case of the essential practice, of the practice of the profound mind which clings on to nothing.