Appreciating the Diamond Sutra

In a recent post, I talked about the latest Star Wars movie and its parallels with certain Buddhist sutras including the Diamond Sutra.

The Diamond Sutra is one of several “Perfection of Wisdom” sutras (more details here), but it’s most frequently associated with Zen Buddhism. My feelings toward Zen are mixed, and generally I’ve avoided it other than a few brief experimentations. Thus, I’ve not really spent much time studying the Diamond Sutra even though I own an old, used copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s excellent translation.

But lately, since my little revelation above, I’ve been thinking about the sutra pretty frequently.

I feel one of the strengths of this sutras is that is touches upon many other points and teachings in Buddhism, but with an eye toward the Emptiness of all things.  This covers even the Pure Lands (a.k.a. “Buddha-fields”) of the Buddhas:

“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.”

The sutra acts as a kind of antidote for getting attached to things, even Buddhist teachings and practices themselves.  It is not about “crazy wisdom” or other such nonsense, but like the earlier Sutra of the Simile of the Water Snake, the Diamond Sutra is about not getting hung up on things.  Even good things.

From time to time, I see Pure Land Buddhists getting really hung up on the Pure Land itself, including a lot of hair-splitting over details about the nature of Amitabha, particulars about the recitation of his name, etc.  These are the people who like to debate about doctrine, and concern themselves with tradition, unaware that the Pure Land they’re obsessing over is all in their heads. It isn’t the real Pure Land.

But the sutra also teaches about not getting hung up on getting hung up on things:

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.

This part is really important because I see some Buddhists imitating crazy behavior of past Zen teachers thinking that this will lead them to greater wisdom.  They happily spout some esoteric comment in a Zen story, or make a vague, clever quip online.  But it’s just imitation.  Such people are still getting hung up on something and patting themselves on the back about how clever they are.

At the end of the day, the Diamond Sutra is telling people to just breathe and focus on your life now.  Reel it in, pay attention, etc.

The Pure Land is real, and the formless wisdom of the past Zen masters is real too.  These two teachings are both an essential part of Buddhism too, but if you think you got it figured out, you probably don’t.

It sounds easy for me to say that from a relatively safe position of “authority” on the ol’ Blogosphere, but I still amaze myself from time to time how wrong I’ve been in the past, and how I still keep tripping up over the same things over and over.

So, while a medicine might taste bitter, it is still good to take that medicine nonetheless.  Such is the Diamond Sutra.  🙂

P.S.  Yes, you can get hung up on the Diamond Sutra too.  But then you can also get hung up on not trying to get hung up on the Diamond Sutra, too.  Ok, take a deep breath, and have a seat.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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