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Diamond Sūtra Discussion

Subhuti Makes a Request 善現啟請

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Subhuti Makes a Request 善現啟請



Yifa: At that time, the Elder Subhuti was among the great assembly, and then arose from his seat. He bared his right shoulder, placed his right knee on the ground, joined his palms and reverentially addressed the Buddha saying, “Rare World-Honored One! The Tathagata is ever protecting and mindful of all bodhisattvas, skillfully entrusting and enjoining them all.

Sanskrit: tena khalu punaḥ samayenāyuṣmān subhutistasyāmeva parṣadi saṃnipatito'bhūtsaṃniṣaṇṇaḥ| atha khalvāyuṣmān subhūtirutthāyāsanādekāṃsamuttarāsaṅgaṃ kṛtvā dakṣiṇaṃ jānumaṇḍalaṃ pṛthivyāṃ pratiṣṭhāpya yena bhagavāṃstenāñjaliṃ praṇamya bhagavantametadavocat- āścaryaṃ bhagavan, paramāścaryaṃ sugata, yāvadeva tathāgatenārhatā samyaksaṃbuddhena bodhisattvā mahāsattvā anuparigṛhītāḥ parameṇānugraheṇa|


Subhūti (須菩提) was one of the ten foremost disciples of the Buddha and foremost in understanding of emptiness. Subhūti was the son of a Brahmin from Śrāvastī. It is appropriate that Subhūti asks the question that follows because it will lead to a discussion on emptiness. Subhūti is the main charater, after the Buddha, in all the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras. (Conze 1973, p323)

Subhūti addresses the Buddha as the Tathāgata (如來), which, in Chinese, literally means 'Thus Come One.' In Sanskrit it could also mean 'Thus Gone One' (tathā + gata). It is one of the Ten Epithets of the Buddha. In the UWest Sanskrit Subhūti also addresses the Buddha as Sugata (Chinese 善逝) meaning the Immaculately Departed One. A bodhisattva (Chinese 菩薩) is a being that is on the path to enlightenment, working for the benefit of other sentient beings.

The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines describes a bodhisattvā, saying,

What is the reason why we speak of 'Bodhisattvas'?
Desirous to extinguish all attachment, and to cut it off,
True non-attachment, or the Bodhi of the Jinas is their future lot.
'Beings who strive for Bodhi' are they therefore called.
(Conze 1973, p11)

In this context a Jina, literally, a hero, refers to a Buddha. The Sanskrit text also mentions mahāsattva, literally 'great being,' forming the combination bodhisattvā mahāsattvā. The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines describes a mahāsattva as one who rises above a great number of people and cuts off mistaken views. (Conze 1973, p11) Dao Chuan writes,

Because they are concerned with all beings their thoughts are 'vast.' Because they are dedicated to liberating others, their thoughts are 'noble.'1



Yifa: World-Honored One, when virtuous men and women develop the mind of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, on what would you say they should rely? How would you say they master their minds?”

Sanskrit: āścaryaṃ bhagavan yāvadeva tathāgatenārhatā samyaksaṃbuddhena bodhisattvā mahāsattvāḥ parīnditāḥ paramayā parīndanayā| tatkathaṃ bhagavan bodhisattvayānasaṃprasthitena kulaputreṇa vā kuladuhitrā vā sthātavyaṃ kathaṃ pratipattavyaṃ kathaṃ cittaṃ pragrahītavyam ?


Subhūti is asking the fundamental question, What should do to cultivate themselves spiritually in order to acheive Anuttarā Samyaksaṃbodhi? Anuttarā Samyaksaṃbodhi is the Sanskrit term for supreme enlightenment. Anuttarā means supreme, Samyak means true or noble, and saṃbodhi means enlightenment. Used together this means supreme enlightenment In other words, How can someone become a Buddha themselves?

The Sanskrit text reads kulaputra, literally, 'son of a noble family' (Chinese 善男子). The ending is modified for the Sanskrit part of speech. Similarly for good women, which translates the Sanskrit kuladuhitrā, Chinese 善女人. These terms are used frequently in the Sanskrit but often simply translated into Chinese as (person).

The second instance of the English word mind in this passage translates the Chinese , Sanskrit citta.

The English word pacify translates the Chinese 降伏. Other English words used for this concept include tame, master (used in Venerable Yifa's translation), and subdue. In the Aṅguttara Nikāya the Buddha says,

"Bikkhus, I do not see even one other thing that when untamed leads to such great harm as the mind. An untamed mind leads to great harm."

"Bikkhus, I do not see even one other thing that when tamed leads to such great good as the mind. An tamed mind leads to great good."
(AN 1.72)


佛言:「善哉善哉須菩提:『如來善護念諸菩薩付囑諸菩薩。』 諦聽善男子善女人發阿耨多羅三藐三菩提心如是如是降伏其心。」 「唯然世尊樂欲。」

Yifa: The Buddha replied, “Excellent! Excellent! Subhuti, it is as you have said. The Tathagata is ever protecting and mindful of all bodhisattvas, skillfully entrusting and enjoing them all. Now listen attentively, and I will explain for you.”

“When virtuous men and women develop the mind of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, they should rely like this; they should master their minds like this.”

“Please continue World-Honored One, we joyfully wish to hear.”

Sanskrit: evamukte bhagavānāyuṣmantaṃ subhūtimetadavocat- sādhu sādhu subhūte, evametatsubhūte, evametadyathā vadasi| anuparigṛhītāstathāgatena bodhisattvā mahāsattvāḥ parameṇānugraheṇa| parīnditāstathāgatena bodhisattvā mahāsattvāḥ paramayā parīndanayā| tena hi subhūte śṛṇu, sādhu ca suṣṭhu ca manasi kuru, bhāṣiṣye'haṃ te-yathā bodhisattvayānasaṃprasthitena sthātavyaṃ yathā pratipattavyaṃ yathā cittaṃ pragrahītavyam| evaṃ bhagavan ityāyuṣyān subhūtirbhagavataḥ pratyaśrauṣīt||2||


The Buddha is delighted to answer questions from his disciples and rarely talks without being asked to answer a question.


  1. Red Pine 2009, p 77, quoting Dao Chuan's 道川 work Jingang Jing Zhu 金剛經註
  2. Bodhi. The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: Aṅguttara Nikāya; Translated from the Pāli by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2012.

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