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Diamond Sūtra Discussion

Introduction to the English commentary on the Diamond Sūtra

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The title of the sutra is Prajñāpāramitā Diamond Sūtra. Prajñāpāramitā means perfection of wisdom. It is also a genre of Mahāyāna literature. Prajñā (Chinese: 般若) wisdom emphasizes understanding that phenomena are empty of inherent existence. That is, not literally empty, but that they arise because of dependent causes and conditions and cease when those causes and conditions no longer sustain the phenonena they created (Hsing Yun 2013, p 38-39). In other words, everthing in this world is impermanent, not enduring. According to the Treatise on the Perfection of Great Wisdom (Chinese: 大智度論) prajñā can be divided into two aspects: bodhi, which is already realized, and emptiness, which is not yet realized (Hsing Yun 2013, p 36). Prajñā is the formost of the six paramitas because the other paramitas are blind without it (Hsing Yun 2013, p 29, quoting the Treatise on the Perfection of Great Wisdom).

Prajñāpāramitā is sometimes called the "Mother of all Buddhas." The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines says,

If a mother with many sons had fallen ill,
They all, sad in mind, would busy themselves about her;
Just so also the Buddhas in the world-systems in the ten directions
Bring to mind this perfection of wisdom as their mother.
(Conze 1973, p31)

There are about 27 sūtras in the Prajñāpāramitā genre [Sangharakshita 2006, p 122]. Of these, eight have surviving Sanskrit versions, including the Diamond Sūtra.

The reference to the word diamond (Sanskrit: vajra, Chinese: 金剛) in the title refers to prajñā that has the ability to cut away delusional thoughts. The Aṅguttara Nikāya says,

Bhikkus, there are these three kinds of persons existing in the world. What three? One whose mind is like an open sore, one whose mind is like lightening, and one whose mind is like a diamond.
"And what is the person whose mind is like a diamond? Here, with the destruction of the taints, some person realizes for himself with direct knowledge, in this very life, the taintless liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, and having entered upon it, dwells in it. Just as there is nothing that a diamond cannot cut, whether gem or stone, so too, with the destruction of the taints, some person realizes for himself, with direct knowledge ... the taintless liberation of mind ..."
(AN 3.5)

The Diamond Sūtra is a short Sūtra and relatively simple sūtra that outlines the fundamentals of Mahāyāna Buddhism. It has been highly regarded throughout history. Hearing the Diamond Sūtra led Hui Neng to leave his home and become the Sixth Patriarch of the Chan School of Buddhism (Hsing Yun 2013, p 33). The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra was used for the mind-to-mind transmission of the Dhárma in the Chan School. However, starting with Hui Neng was used instead (Hsing Yun 2013, p 33).

The Diamond Sūtra is the oldest surviving printed book in the world. A copy of a printed version of the Diamond Sūtra from 868, discovered in Dunhuang, is kept in the British Library (see references). A Sanskrit version of the Diamond Sūtra was discovered in Afghanistan and is now part of the the Schøyen Collection (MS 2385, see references).

This commentary is based on the Chinese translation by Kumārajīva (334–413) in the Taishō Tripiṭaka (volume 8, number 235). Kumārajīva was a native of Kucha in present day Xinjiang province. He was brought to the Later Qin capital of Chang'an by the monarch Yao Xing (reigned 394 to 416) in 401 CE. Yao Xing (姚興) was also known as Yao Qin (姚秦). This is the origin of the term Yao Qin in the first line of the text. 1

Other than the translation by Kumārajīva There are several versions of the Diamond Sutra translated to Chinese. These include a version by Bodhiruci in 509 and a version by Paramārtha in 558 (Lancaster and Park, 1979). The Sanskrit version from the University of the West is also given with the detailed commentary. 2 This Sanskrit version is not the same as the version that Kumārajīva translated into Chinese but you can see from the comparison that it is close. The Sanskrit is expanded compared to the Chinese with interpolations. See Harrison (2010) for an explanation of this.


1. The Chinese text is from CBETA, which has digitized the text of the Diamond Sūtra from the Taishō Tripiṭaka. The English version of the text is from the translation by Venerable Yifa, M. C. Owens, and P. M. Romaskiewicz (2nd Ed. 2006, Buddha's Light Publishing, used with permission). Another translation that has been consulted and used in the commentary section to match against Sanskrit is from the Lapis Lazuli web site (see references). We have re-arranged the text to be able to compare the Chinese and English text with sections arranged as in the English translation. These headers are not part of the original Chinese text. I have made some edits of the English text for readability and inserted Sanskrit terms in square brackets [] to make it easier to know when a Buddhist term is intended.

2. The Sanskrit text has been used with permission of the University of the West. The original publisher is The Mithila Institute of Post-Graduate Studies and Research in Sanskrit Learning.

3. I thank Venerable Yifa, Michael Owens, and Peter Romaskiewicz for permission to reproduce the English text of the Sūtra. I also thank Lapis Lazuli Texts for the English version, dedicated to the public domain, used in the commentary.


AN: Aṅguttara Nikāya
SN: Saṃyutta Nikāya
T - Taisho Tripiṭaka
UWest — University of the West Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon


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回向偈 Transfer of Merits





May palms in every world be joined in kindness, compassion, joy and generosity.

May all beings find security in friendship, peace and loving care.

May calm and mindful practice give rise to deep patience and equanimity.

May we give rise to spacious hearts and humble thoughts of gratitude.

By Alex Amies 2014

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