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Tag: Diamond Sutra

Calming and Contemplation part 2

by tendo zenji

Instructional Talks Downloads

December 10th, 2022
Non-Abiding: Instructional Talk


While there is reason and value to dwell in emptiness, ever open, the essence of the awakened mind is Non-dwelling. Our normal view is from the self, we dwell in this sense of separateness, that we are this and everything else is that. The awakened mind is not in such a static viewpoint, it is the energetic, generative, continual transformation that is reality. In the midst of thought, no-thought. We can practice this in our sitting, but go beyond this to all our activities. In any action we aren’t attached to any particular view or outcome. Thus we are able to respond freely.

We can see how this is explained in core treatises and sutras below and how to engage in this as a practice in the next section. Do see the recorded talk for a detailed examination of all of this.

The “Treatise on Awakening of Faith” says, “If you would practice cessation, stay in a quiet place, sitting straight with proper attention; do not rely on the breath, do not rely on physical form, do not rely on space, do not rely on earth, water, fire, or air . . . do not rely on perception or discernment—dismiss all conceptions as they come to mind, and also dismiss the conception of dismissing. As all things are fundamentally without conception, instant to instant they are unborn, instant to instant unperishing. Nor should you pursue outside the mind to think about objects. Then dismiss mind by mind. If the mind races and scatters, you should concentrate and bring it back to right mindfulness.”” In the contemplation of there being only mind and consciousness, all delusions will naturally be transcended.” For ordinary people and beginning students false and true are not yet distinguished; the net of delusion enters the mind and fools the practitioner. Without an adept teacher to ask, they have nothing to rely on; they take the effects of the four demons to be the right path:” as days and months pass, over a long period of time, false views become so ingrained that even meeting with good conditions they become difficult to change; sinking in the ocean of suffering, there is no way of escape. You should look into this on your own part; do not allow a moment’s deviation. This teaching is as expounded in the “Treatise on Awakening of Faith.”

Entry Into the Inconceivable p. 164-5

The Diamond Sutra and Platform Sutra

Chapter 10

Therefore, Subhuti, fearless bodhisattvas should thus give birth to a thought that is not attached and not give birth to a thought attached to anything. They should not give birth to a thought attached to a sight. Nor should they give birth to a thought attached to a sound, a smell, a taste, a touch, or a dharma.

The Sixth Patriarch Sutra says, “Once, when the Fifth Patriarch was reading the Diamond Sutra, when he got to ‘They should give birth to a mind that isn’t attached to anything,’ the Sixth Patriarch (Hui-neng) was suddenly enlightened and said, ‘How could I have known my own nature was already pure? How could I have known my own nature was neither created nor destroyed? How could I have known my own nature was already perfect? How could I have known my own nature does not change?’ The Fifth Patriarch said, ‘Not to recognize your own mind is to study the Dharma to no avail. If, as I was speaking, you recognized your own mind and saw your own nature, you are a leader of men and gods.’”

Hui-neng says, “People who dwell on the sights they see and give birth to thoughts about sights are deluded. People who remain detached from the sights they see and do not give birth to thoughts about sights are awake. People who give birth to thoughts about sights are like a cloud-covered sky. People who do not give birth to thoughts about sights are like a cloudless sky where the sun and moon shine.”   

The Diamond Sutra translated by Red Pine(p. 149-151).

Platform Sutra

The scholar-monk Qisong (契嵩) also noted in his foreword of the Platform Sutra:

The formless is the essence. (無相為體 wúxiang wei ti)
Non-thought is the tenet. (無念為宗 wúnian wei zong)
Non-abiding is the fundamental. (無住為本 wúzhù wei ben)

Non-abiding leads to prajñā (wisdom), as it enables one to consider that worldly issues are empty, so there is no point in retaliation or disputes.

from the Wikipedia entry on Non-Abiding

Non-Dwelling practices

Practices success as Silent Illumination or Shikantaza when done correctly are non-dwelling practices. See this article from Dharma Drum on Non-Abiding which gets into Silent Illumination as a non-abiding practice: Non-Abiding

Ocean Seal Samadhi

Visualization practice for openness. We use the Ocean Seal Samadhi as a technique toward increasing openness. See part 1 for description and guided meditation in this technique. The essence here is to get a feel for increasing openness and to let go of the words and then the visualization. Once one is able to just allow oneself to open up, then you can move on to

Increasing openness 

We relax ourself, settle into sitting, settle into our breath, move into our bodies and increasingly open up. Any point that we find ourselves resting into a modality we let it go. In the chan understanding of this, we simply ‘put down’ any attempt to rest anywhere: in the breath, in the body, in thoughts, in feelings, eventually in openness itself. Put it down.


Entry Into the Inconceivable
An Introduction to Hua-yen Buddhism
by Thomas Cleary
University of Hawaii Press· Honolulu, 1983
ISBN 0-8248-0824-X

Dewdrops on Stinging Nettles
A Companion for Practice
Dream Mountain Press 2020

Diamond Sutra
translated by Bill Porter (Red Pine)
Counterpoint; Revised ed. edition (November 18, 2002)
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1582432562

Platform Sutra
Hui-neng translated by Bill Porter (Red Pine)
Counterpoint (November 28, 2008)
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1593761775

Calming and Contemplation part 1

by tendo zenji

Instructional Talks Downloads

October 15th, 2022
Relaxation, Openness, Outside Practice: Instructional Talk

November 12th, 2022
Cultivating Openness, Ocean Seal Samadhi: Instructional Talk
Ocean Seal Samadhi Guided Meditation: Guided Meditation

What is that we are doing when we are practicing? Mumon Roshi succinctly summarizes the aims of stillness-sitting thusly: align your body, align your breath, align your mind. In traditional Buddhism this is understood as Samatha-Vipassana or calming and contemplation. Let us consider this method of practice, which is the orientation of all Buddhist practice, from both of these categorizations.


In order to truly engage with the subjects of contemplation our minds must be settled. What is meant by a “settled mind?” This means that wandering thoughts have diminished to where they no longer are an issue. Thinking is what our brains do and at no point in the practice are we suppressing thoughts, or trying to stop this behavior. The almost random, brain driven thouights that come up when we are being still are know as scattered thoughts. If we purse these they are wandering thoughts This can be things like commenting on how things are going, what we will do later, dwelling on physical sensations and so on. Other forms of thoughts can be discursive where we analyze, plan and other types of reasoned through and narrative where we develop scattered thoughts into stories.

Align your body

We begin calming by aligning the body. This is our posture the physical form of our stillness-sitting. In Zen they say you have to “find your seat” which can take a long time to do. This is necessary for extended sitting but also applies in differing forms if we are walking, standing or sitting outside. There are many treatises on the physical aspects of sitting (see Mumon Roshi’s own in How to Practice Zazen) but the essence is:

Begin by sitting comfortably erect, back straight and naturally curved, eyes level, nose vertical, Chin tucked in. Shoulders should be slightly back, arms slightly open, hands resting in your lap.  Eyes should be just slightly open. Settle into your seat.

excerpt from Breath Guided Relaxation in Dewdrops on Stinging Nettles

Align your breath

From a solid foundation we already have begun to settle our minds. We settled into our bodies when we align them and what we mean we when say settle our minds is that our minds no longer feel separate from our bodies. We further this though the second part of Mumon Roshi’s tripartite practice.

We must be fully relaxed for our minds to truly settle and for us to truly “find our seat” Relaxation is the next step of the process. It settles us into our bodies, eases that duality between body and mind and prepares us to focus on our breath. The body scan method is the most effective way to search your body for tension and to let that tension go. There are numerous guided body scans one can find for this and in the guided meditation link here includes this before going into to it. Below is the essentials for the body scan, using our breath as a natural guide for letting go of tension.

Breath Guided Relaxation
For each breath we naturally exhale until we automatically inhale. There should be no effort involved. The breaths will naturally deepen and lengthen as we relax. As we exhale we slowly sweep our gaze from the current object downward as described.
Place your awareness on the top of your head and exhale, letting all tension go, sweeping down toward the eyes
Relax the eyes, paying attention to the space between the eyebrows, the eyelids and the eye sockets.
Sweep down the face, checks, up the jawline ending with a very slight smile on your lips.
Return your gaze to the top of your head and sweep down and back over your neck.
The shoulders can be especially tense, as you inhale your can deliberately increase this tension, slightly raising them up, them letting them relax as your gaze sweeps down shoulders toward your arms.
Let your awareness slide down your arms, elbow and hands.
Next we feel our inhale in the chest and sweep down to the abdomen, fully relaxing these muscles.
Then the back. Begin with the back of the shoulder blades and sweep down to the middle back.
Moving our gaze to the lower back, we relax down to the hips.
Continuing from the hips and slide your awareness down your legs, knees and feet.
Finally we we settle into our seat, exhaling from the top of our head down into our seat. Rooting ourself into the earth. Cultivating the Still Pool.

excerpt from Breath Guided Relaxation in Dewdrops on Stinging Nettles

It can take us quite a while to truly relax into our bodies. Our circumstances are such that we float through this world from our heads and there are many stressors and difficulties. It can be hard to relax. So in an extended period of stillness-sitting one many go through the body scan over and over again as one continues to feel tension and separateness. As the relaxation method presented is guided by the breath, one is engaging with this essential aspect of our beings to increase calming and the setting down of pursuing our scattered thoughts. To truly do so, we must begin to cultivate concentration through the practice of focus.

It is essential to be able to focus our awareness, to naturally let energy flow to a single point concentrating our minds. Through practice we can develop this skill which is the basis of so many methods.  
We begin as always by cultivating the Still Pool.  Shifting our awareness to our abdomen, feel the rise and fall of the breath. It is vital that this is the focus, that we remain alert and attentive to the breath moving through our bodies. Naturalness is equally essential: we don’t force the breath or by will attempt to control it.  Simply keep ones awareness directed toward the abdomen.  Thoughts may arise, note that and place awareness back on the breath. If we notice that have followed a thought for a period of time, we do not castigate ourselves, simply return our awareness to the breath.  If our thoughts are too scattered to stay with our breath in this manner we employ strategies that require ever more attention. Counting exhalations from one to ten is the most basic. We can increase the complexity of counting by counting by twos, by odd numbers, backwards and so on.  We do this to engage the conceptual mind until it settles down. Then we simply place our awareness on the rise and fall of the abdomen.

By doing this we build up the skills of noticing when we are unfocused, of placing our awareness without commentary and over time deep concentration.  These abilities will serve us well in other endeavors but is a practice that can be deeply pursued in its own right. 

excerpt from Focus in Dewdrops on Stinging Nettles


Align your mind

From a calm and focused mind we move into contemplation, the active work of the practice of engaging with what is actually happening. At this moment we are siting, calm and aware. In the contemplation that we are investigating here we are cultivating increasing openness, the active awareness that is the functional of reality as it is. This is development of the unified mind, that is empty of a sense of a separate self, but fully engage, fully aware.

Openness can’t be forced, you must ease into it naturally. We become increasingly open by cultivating the Still Pool and settling into awareness of our entire bodies. Then we can open up further by Listening, letting sounds in without discrimination, without placing attention on them. This brings our sense of awareness beyond ourselves.
Likewise the Gazing practices bring us to a place of greater and greater openness. Using the channels of eyes and ears and skillfully applying focus we become in tune with the landscape that is in our visual and auditory sensorium.
With practice we become increasingly open, open to sounds, sights, sensations, open to our bodies and surroundings, open to what is. By not chasing thoughts, by not naming or commenting upon what we see and hear, by not indulging in sensations, by not forcing everything into our story, we open even further and effortlessly remain open. Thoughts simply rise and fall uncommented upon and over time diminish. Our narrative fades and our sense of a separate self recedes. It is in this open condition, where we are mostly just a presence in landscape that are are in alignment with Empty Awareness. We find ourselves increasingly in tune with what is.

excerpt from Openness in Dewdrops on Stinging Nettles

Transitioning from focus into openness
In the same way that one can transition from the Still Pool into openness, one can move from focusing on the breath into openness. When we engage in a period of stillness-sitting we always begin by relaxing and settling into the Still Pool. Once settled we place our awareness on the abdomen as it rises and falls. If our minds are particularly scattered engage in the necessary counting practice. As it calms down we return our awareness to the abdomen, always focusing awareness there when we are distracted. As distractions fall away we simply increase the field of our awareness from the rise and fall of the abdomen to our entire bodies and from there to the experience of sitting, increasingly open. 

Every time that we engage in stillness-sitting we should transition into Openness. Until focus is deeply developed this might just be for short periods of time, as we return to the breath as we lose focus. But the practice of focus like all of the practices leads to increased Openness bringing us into alignment with what is.

excerpt from Focus in Dewdrops on Stinging Nettles

Cultivating Openness

There are myriad ways to cultivate openness, aligning ourselves with reality as it is. In these talks we are examine sitting, but also engaging with the wider world though outside practices. There are myriad outside practices, that both cultivate dwelling in openness and the non-dwelling that is the mind of empty awareness. These can be found in the Outside Practices text Dewdrops on Stinging Nettles and we will consider both sitting outside and a visualization technique for sitting here.

Sitting Outside
When out of doors we are naturally in our bodies, by being aware of our bodies, centering ourselves in the abdomen, rooting ourselves in the earth, breathing naturally, we can truly inhabit them. As we move amidst the natural environment with all of its continual change we can become increasingly aware of silence. Behind every sound, behind the incessant activity is a deep silence.  At twilight, when birds come to rest and people are generally not out and about, you can feel a hushed stillness, that points to a yet deeper silence.  Paying attention to these conditions facilitates seeing past the self.
When sitting out of doors our movement often noisy and careless, disturbs our surroundings. Stillness Sitting out of doors integrates us into the surroundings and the wildlife our rough behavior alienates will feel comfortable in our presence. Birds will fly right by, small mammal scurry right up to check us out, deep amble by unconcerned with our presence. As one’s stillness matures one becomes merely another feature of the landscape. We spend much of our lives distancing ourselves from our surroundings and in this way become a disturbance when we move through our environment. Being still outside teaches us how to naturally move through it.
When we are seated outside, or where we can see the outdoors, this is not an opportunity to ‘watch’ or to attach to additional stimulus. Gazing at what is in our field of view is not different from gazing at the floor in front of us. We engage in outdoor sitting in order to facilitate Empty Awareness.
Sit as you normally would, eyes mostly closed, gaze downward. Let the increased sounds of the outdoors flow through you. Let go of the environment and relax into awareness, cultivating the Still Pool. When thoughts have subsided open your eyes, fully utilizing your peripheral vision. There should be no distinction between them open and closed. The Still Pool, deeply clear, undisturbed by thought, sensations and feelings, brightly mirroring all that shines in.

excerpt from Being Outside in Dewdrops on Stinging Nettles

Ocean Seal Samadhi 
The Ocean Seal Samadhiis a practice that was core to the Hua-yen school of Chinese Buddhism. Its orientation is toward totality viewed in a a holographic way of the complete interconnection and interpenetration of all phenomenon. This can be seen as complete openness.

The oceanic reflection concentration, or oceanic reflection of the interdependent origination of the universe, refers to the clear, mirror-like mind, like the placid ocean, reflecting everything at once. In this holistic awareness everything is part of everything else, so that when one is brought up all are included. The Ch’an master Matsu Daoyi likened this awareness to bathing in the ocean-at once using the waters of all tributa­ries. 

Entry into the Inconceivable p. 217

Ch’an Master Sheng Yen developed a visualization practice in an attempt to reconstruct the Ocean Seal Samadhi which is not described in practical terms in any Huayan texts. I had learned a variant of Sheng Yen’s method about a decade ago under the name ‘The Eye of the Tatagata.’ This name is apropos in that you are visualizing seeing as a Buddha sees, the totality of all things, which is the orientation of Hua-yen. This practice I further developed into a non visualization practice of ever increasing Openness, which is Non-Dwelling, practice that we will return to in Part 2 of this series.

I was reacquainted with the visualization practice, in it’s proper context via Guo Gu’s talk and practice on Hua-yen Buddhsim in his excellent 16 week class From Indian Buddhism to Chinese Ch’an. In his discussion of it he translated a more theoretical description of the practice from the primary Hua-yan patriarch Fazang. Guo Gu summazrizins the practice thusly: “The focus is on the interplay of the images on the surface of the ocean—the unobstructed interpenetration of each and every phenomenal reality, or shishi wuai.”

From Reflections on the Mind that Journeys throughout Huayan Dharmadhātu by Fazang 

It is like the reflection of the four divisions of a cakravartin’s troops on a vast ocean. Although the reflected images differ in kind, they suddenly appear simultaneously on [the surface of] the ocean in their proper order. Even though the appearances are many, the water [that reflects them] remains undisturbed. The images are indistinguishable from the water, and yet [the water] is calm and clear; the water is identical from the images, and yet [the images] are multifarious. Both are utterly clear without past and present, and it is difficult to fathom where one begins and the other ends. Abundant and profuse, [the images] are quiescent and formless—simultaneously and instantaneously manifesting. Appearing and disappearing—their forms are difficult to fathom; interfusing and mutually penetrating—they are without constraints. The images harmonize with each other where conceptualizations are extinguished. How can they be apprehended? According to the Avataṃsaka, “This is the inconceivable [realm of reality]; that which can be conceived of cannot be apprehended. To deeply enter the inconceivable is to contemplate the un-contemplatable quiescent extinction.”  

Fazang translated by Guo Gu

The above passage gets at the essentials of Hua-yan thought that you are visualizing in this It continues on to state: “The sūtra also discerns that it is called “ocean” because its various reflections multiply endlessly and their limit is impossible to fathom. To investigate one of them thoroughly is to pursue the infinite, for, in any one of them, all the rest vividly appear at the same time.” It is this, the investigation of the all in the one and one in the all that is the heart of the contemplation. Thus it extends the “Eye of the Tatagata” from one of completeness openness to totality, to the ramifications of this understanding of reality in which all phenomenon is embedded in all other phenonoment.,

For this reason, it is called, “ocean.” It is called “seal” because all the images appear simultaneously within it without distinction of past and present. The myriad diverse kinds [of images] penetrate each other without obstruction. The one and the many are reflected in one another without opposing each other.

Fazang translated by Guo Gu

The guided meditation above goes through the visualization technique of increasingly opening oneself up to totality. This technique takes a while to develop a feel for it and it is essential to develop that feel. For you want to be able to increasingly open up in this way without the need for the words to guide you and eventually without the visualization. An essential aspect of this, as with any of the openness techniques is to note the silence, the stillness that seems vibrant with energy. This is a living practice, engaging with the dynamic process of reality as it is.


Dewdrops on Stinging Nettles
A Companion for Practice
Dream Mountain Press 2020

Entry Into the Inconceivable
An Introduction to Hua-yen Buddhism
by Thomas Cleary
University of Hawaii Press· Honolulu, 1983
ISBN 0-8248-0824-X

How to Practice Zazen
Comments on the Zazengi
Mumon Yamada Roshi
Institute for Zen Studies; January 1, 1980

April 5th, 2020 Zazenkai – Our Great Vow as Right View

by tendo zenji

The Buddha said to him, “Subhuti, those who would now set forth on the bodhisattva path should thus give birth to this thought: ‘However many beings there are in whatever realms of being might exist, whether they are born from an egg or born from a womb, born from the water or born from the air, whether they have form or no form, whether they have perception or no perception or neither perception nor no perception, in whatever conceivable realm of being one might conceive of beings, in the realm of complete nirvana I shall liberate them all. And though I thus liberate countless beings, not a single being is liberated.’ “And why not? Subhuti, a bodhisattva who creates the perception of a being cannot be called a ‘bodhisattva.’ And why not? Subhuti, no one can be called a bodhisattva who creates the perception of a self or who creates the perception of a being, a life, or a soul.”

Red Pine, The Diamond Sutra (p. 71)

In the Diamond Sutra we find the Four Bodhisattva Vows that are renewed every day in Zen temples, monasteries and centers around the world.  The first vow, which is often shortened to “I vow to liberate all beings” is quoted above in full.  When you look at how the Buddha describes “all beings” what we see is that this really is, everything, reality itself.  In essence we are vowing to awaken reality.

When we first start sitting we tend to sit for ourselves. We wish to relieve suffering, be more centered, be happy, find peace and endless other reasons. These all come from the self. If we achieve a breakthrough, a glimpse into our true natures from the perspective, or ‘view’ of the self, then it is easy for the self to co-opt our realization.  We may have a moment of clarity, of unconditioned being, but it quickly becomes part of the self, our ego identities.

This was the great insight of the Mahayana and thus the View, or orientation was changed. We sit not for ourselves, not for realizing our own desires, but to awaken all things, to embody our true nature. This topic as well as more from Ch’an Master Huangbo was discussed in the talk from the April 5th, Zazenkai, which can be found below the fold.


Read the rest of this entry »

How to Stand, Walk and Sit

by tendo zenji

How to Stand, Walk and Sit

The Diamond Sutra on the Way of the Bodhisattva

“One day before noon, the Bhagavan put on his patched robe and picked up his bowl and entered the capital of Shravasti for offerings. After begging for food in the city and eating his meal of rice, he returned from his daily round in the afternoon, put his robe and bowl away, washed his feet, and sat down on the appointed seat. After crossing his legs and adjusting his body, he turned his awareness to what was before him.” (p. 39)

It is a common misperception that Ch’an (Zen) eschews the sutras, but one finds in the earliest historical documents that it has always been aligned with one or another sutra. The legends have it that the Fifth Chinese Patriarch, Daman Hongren, replaced the much more esoteric and metaphysical Lankavatara Sutra with the Diamond Sutra as the primary sutra used in his monastery. Legend also has it that an uneducated laborer on hearing a section of The Diamond Sutra had a sudden insight and coming to study with Hongren later became the Sixth Patriarch Huineng. To this day The Diamond Sutra is one of a handful of sutras regularly chanted, studied and taught in Ch’an training.

“In the first chapter, we see what a buddha does, which is not so different from our own daily round of existence, if we could only do what we do unhindered by attachments and see what we do unobstructed by delusions.” (Red Pine, p. 39)

The Diamond Sutra begins with the historical Buddha doing what he did every day: begging for food, taking care of his needs, eating a meal, sitting zazen and interacting with his students. The very first lines of the sutra in essence demonstrate the theme of the sutra as stated in the next section and explained over the subsequent thirty sections. The sutra is structured as a dialog between Subhuti and the Buddha and it is Subhuti who asks the question that is this theme of the sutra:

“Even so, Bhagavan, if a noble son or daughter should set forth on the bodhisattva path, how should they stand, how should they walk, and how should they control their thoughts?”   (p. 57).

The Diamond Sutra being a Mahayana text is concerned with the way of the bodhisattva,.“The Maha Prajnaparamita Sutra says a bodhisattva is “anyone who ceaselessly seeks unexcelled, perfect enlightenment as well as the happiness and welfare of all beings.” (p. 63). The sutra walks us through what being a bodhisattva entails via Subhuti who was considered the Buddha’s foremost disciple on the doctrine of emptiness (and in fact his name means “born of emptiness”). Subhuti is not yet a bodhisattva and for the purposes of this teaching represents a follower of the Hinayana (lesser path). Taking it from this perspective allows the sutra to also serve in explaining how the Mahayana differs from the Hinayana.

Hsu-fa says, “Essentially Subhuti is saying, ‘We have set out to attain the bodhisattva mind, but we do not know how to travel the bodhisattva path.’” (p. 65).

From the perspective of the Hinayana the instruction that one would expect would be one of how to be morally upright and of how to use meditation to control our thoughts. But instead of teachings on controlling our thoughts the Buddha informs Subhuti that in the bodhisattva must arise a thought.

The Buddha said to him, “Subhuti, those who would now set forth on the bodhisattva path should thus give birth to this thought: ‘However many beings there are in whatever realms of being might exist, whether they are born from an egg or born from a womb, born from the water or born from the air, whether they have form or no form, whether they have perception or no perception or neither perception nor no perception, in whatever conceivable realm of being one might conceive of beings, in the realm of complete nirvana I shall liberate them all. And though I thus liberate countless beings, not a single being is liberated.’   (p. 71).

Here we set the roots of the Great Vow, the vow that defines the bodhisattva and distinguishes the Mahayana from the Hinayana. For it is in arousing this thought, this aspiration to liberate all beings, that sets these two paths apart. The bodhisattva in their impossible quest to liberate all beings, animate and inanimate, works toward their own liberation and as it will develop this aspiration is in fact a necessary condition for liberation.

“The bodhisattva path is the path of active, rather than passive, practice. Rather than advising us to suppress our thoughts, the Buddha preempts them. He advises bodhisattvas not to wait for thoughts to arise but to give birth to a thought that puts all other thoughts to flight, a thought like the morning sun that chases the myriad stars from the sky. The language used here suggests that this thought has been gestating within us for many lifetimes and it is now time to bring it forth, to give it life. Thus, this is the most important event in a bodhisattva’s career and what makes a bodhisattva a bodhisattva.” (Red Pine, p.72).

If it is arousing the Great Vow that makes a bodhisattva a bodhisattva, it is the last line of the above quote from The Diamond Sutra that points toward how a bodhisattva is to undertake this: And though I thus liberate countless beings, not a single being is liberated. Attachments are the primary hindrance in the path and the The Diamond Sutra dismantles this fundamental attachment from which all other attachments arise, namely the notion of a separated self.

Te-ch’ing says, “The primary method taught by the Buddha to liberate beings is to realize that there is no self. Once there is a self, the other concepts follow. In liberating beings, a bodhisattva should realize that there is no self. Once there is no self, there are no beings. And if there are no beings, then all beings are naturally liberated. And once all beings are liberated, the fruit of buddhahood is not far off.”   (p. 81).

 The Bodhisattva arouses the thought to free all beings without attachment to a self, a being, a life, and a soul (the Four Perceptions) with the understanding that there are no separated beings and thus no attachment to beings. But it is also necessary that the bodhisattva not be attached to the act of liberation itself. The act of charity, which striving to liberate beings certainly is, is one of the Six Perfections and is considered to be the only one to generate merit on its own. The Diamond Sutra in the fourth section turns to this notion of the generation of merit in a construction that is repeated throughout the sutra. Usually in dialog with Subhuti the Buddha asks him to imagine an increasingly great quantity and then to consider the accumulated merit one would gain by a corresponding amount of charitable giving. But each time he then notes that a bodhisattva who is unattached to giving, gains far more (infinite in fact) merit. It is in this way that ultimately the notion of the accumulation of merit, which one can certainly become attached to, is let go.

“In practicing charity, or any of the perfections, the Buddha warns against attachment to three things: the practitioner (in this case, the person who gives); the beneficiary (the recipient); and the practice (the giving of the gift). In his “Outline of Practice,” Bodhidharma says, “Since what is real includes nothing worth begrudging, we give our bodies, our lives, and our property in charity, without regret, without the vanity of giver, gift, or recipient, and without bias or attachment. To get rid of obstructions, we teach others, but without becoming attached to appearances.“ (Red Pine, p. 87)

Another central metaphor used throughout the Diamond Sutra is that of the Three Bodies: the incarnation body, the reward body and the dharma body. The incarnation body, is our physical body, the reward body is the body of merit that we have accumulated and the dharma body is the only actual real body: ultimate reality itself. The metaphor of the body has to do with the fruits of practice in form, merit and in realization. In the fifth section of the sutra the Buddha inquires as whether he can be seen via attributes of his physical bodies. This question is as asked four other times throughout the sutra, each time furthering our understanding of the nature of a buddha’s attainment.

Seng-chao says, “Bodhisattvas have three goals in mind: to liberate all beings, to cultivate all practices, and to realize enlightenment. Liberating others has already been explained as the way to practice. This section explains how to approach enlightenment. The bodily attributes of the Tathagata make up the body that comes with enlightenment. To recognize this dharma body is to realize enlightenment. But to think that its nature is real is to miss the mark. Thus, he points to the dharma body to explain the emptiness of enlightenment.” (p. 102).

The primary notions being presented in The Diamond Sutra are all present in the first five sections of the sutra. The remainder of the sutra, elucidates these points, taking them further and further to their ultimate ramifications. Again and again the question of merit arises, weighing greater and greater charitable gifts against the teaching of this sutra. But since the teachings of The Diamond Sutra can lead to liberation, no act of charity can compare.

The Buddha said, “Subhuti, if instead of filling the billion worlds of this universe with the seven jewels and giving them as a gift to the tathagatas, the arhans, the fully-enlightened ones, this noble son or daughter grasped but one four-line gatha of this dharma teaching and made it known and explained it in detail to others, the body of merit produced as a result would be immeasurably, infinitely greater.”

If, as The Diamond Sutra states over and over again, spreading the teaching contained herein is of such great value then this is can become another avenue for attachment. Furthermore since we are fundamentally inseparable from ultimate reality there isn’t really anything to realize. “Hui-neng puts it thus, “The realization of no realization is called true realization. The teaching of no teaching is called true teaching.” (p. 130). Since this is the essence of the teaching what is there to teach? Hui-neng comments “If we realize nothing and teach nothing, might we not vanish into emptiness? All buddhas, however, appear from this sutra“.

The purpose of bringing up this meeting [with Dipankara Buddha] is to contrast the bodhisattva’s attainment with that of the arhan’s. For it was during this encounter that the Buddha realized the forbearance of birthlessness, which is the final attainment of the bodhisattva, the ability to know and to bear the knowledge that nothing arose in the past, nothing now arises, and nothing will arise in the future. There is no greater traumatic experience or knowledge for someone on the spiritual path. Hence, such forbearance or acceptance requires kalpas of preparation. (p. 176).

Over the course of the sutra more and more is taken away. This has already been alluded to in the first five sections, which contain all of the sutras teachings. The most difficult barrier for the bodhisattva to cross, is the notion of birthlessness. This is emptiness taken to the limit that there is nothing, that ultimate reality as we have been talking about is fundamentally empty. And of course this emptiness is empty. This was considered such a shock that a bodhisattva would require multiple lifetimes to cultivate the forbearance necessary to realize this. In the earliest form of the Bodhisattva Precepts (the Brahma Net Precepts) to reveal birthlessness to someone not prepared for it was a grave violation of the precepts.

“The Buddha outlined the attainments of the bodhisattva, all of which turned out to be no attainments: no truth realized, no world transformed, no colossal spiritual self offered up to others. But the Buddha is concerned that his disciples might now conclude that since nothing is attained, there is no need to cultivate the merit upon which such non-attainment is based.” (Red Pine, p. 188).

At no point in the sutra is the Buddha so lacking in compassion that he would allow a student to fall into nihilism.   As each section takes away more and more attachments he occasionally pauses and notes that you still have to do the work. As long as there are beings caught in delusion all of the traditional notions of merit and the many teachings surrounding them are of value. These skillful means are rafts we use to get to the other shore, which should then be abandoned. There is no tool that the bodhisattva can’t put to use in the appropriate situation. Much of the latter half of the sutra is concerned with these skillful means

The Buddha told the venerable Subhuti, “The name of this dharma teaching, Subhuti, is the Perfection of Wisdom. Thus should you remember it. And how so? Subhuti, what the Tathagata says is the perfection of wisdom, the Tathagata says is no perfection. Thus is it called the ‘perfection of wisdom.’ (p. 203).

Prajna is commonly translated as wisdom, which it certainly does mean, but it also has the connotation of emptiness in a similar way as shunyata. The body of teaching that The Diamond Sutra belongs to is known as the Prajna Paramitas which means ‘the perfection of wisdom’. But in the view of prajna as emptiness it has to do with the logic of emptiness, which is a tool for cutting through delusion. Red Pine explains it thusly: “For emptiness means absence or negation, while the perfection of wisdom means the absence or negation of what is false, not the absence or negation of what is real.”  (p. 207). You can see the formation ‘logic of emptiness’ in the selection from section thirteen quoted above. It is dialectical in that you take a notion and negate it, but instead of unifying the two (ala Hegel) he instead affirms the original notion. This is because if we can understand something as not separate from fundamental reality, which is what is being negated, then indeed they exist.   “Thus, the arhan’s denial of reality becomes the bodhisattva’s affirmation. “(Red Pine p. 108).

The Buddha asks us simply to see things as they are and to share this vision with others. Buddhas do not arise from emptiness but from this teaching, which liberates us from both delusions and emptiness as well as from the renunciation of delusions and emptiness. (Red Pine, p. 205).

In Ch’an, the logic of emptiness is often removed completely from the realm of the verbal. When in a dynamic situation the Zen Master expresses the seamlessness with fundamental reality. “Meanwhile, Zen masters often shortened this logical technique even further by holding up one finger, by refusing to speak, by striking their disciples, or by offering them a cup of tea”. (Red Pine, p. 108).  The central teachings of The Diamond Sutra is the central teachings of Mahanyana Buddhism and Ch’an in the end is yet another skillful means for presenting it. In the final section of the sutra the Buddha, utilizing the logic of emptiness, elucidates the essence of the Ch’an style:

And how should they explain it? By not explaining. Thus is it called ‘explaining.’ (p. 429).


The Diamond Sutra
Translation and commentary by Red Pine
Counterpoint Press, 2002
ISBN: 1582432562

About the text

diamond-sutra-red-pine-coverThe Red Pine translation of The Diamond Sutra is of immeasurable value particular to the Zen practioner. Red Pine’s deep understanding of the sutra is made clear in his own commentary, which goes nearly line by line through the text. This sutra being the most compressed of the Prajna Paramita literature clearly assumes an audience that is completely versed in early, as well as Mahayana, Buddhist teachings and metaphysics. It never adds an explanation where a term that is freighted with decades of interpretation will serve. Without this kind of commentary it is unlikely that even a well-versed Buddhist will truly grasp what is being conveyed. Beyond that Red Pine always translates a healthy selection of historical commentary, ranging from other entries in the Prajna Paramita literature, to early Indian commentaries, to selections from a book of commentary by fifty odd Zen masters, to contemporary figures like Thich Nhat Hanh. The value of these additional comments, particularly in adding the Zen perspective, is immense. His choice of utilizing an early Sanskrit source as his basis of the translations avoids the errors that have come down from early Chinese translations which previous English translation have arrived. His scholarship is such that he compares (and explains in translation notes) a number of the major sources in Chinese, Tibetan and Sanskrit. There simply isn’t a more comprehensive, yet completely readable, translation and study of this fundamental text.