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Diamond Sūtra Discussion

The principle of true perception 如理實見分

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The principle of true perception 如理實見


須菩提云何可以身相見如來不?」「世尊不可以相得如來何以如來即非。」 須菩提:「所有皆是虛妄諸相如來。」

Yifa: “Subhuti, what does your mind say? The Tathagata can be seen by bodily appearances, can he not?”

“No, World-Honored One. The Tathagata cannot be seen by bodily appearances. Why is this? The Tathagata has said bodily appearances are not bodily appearances.”

The Buddha told Subhuti, “Every appearance whatsoever is a deception. If you can see all appearances not as appearances, then you see the Tathagata.”

Sanskrit: tatkiṃ manyase subhūte lakṣaṇasaṃpadā tathāgato draṣṭavyaḥ ? subhūtirāha-no hīdaṃ bhagavan| na lakṣaṇasaṃpadā tathāgato draṣṭavyaḥ| tatkasya hetoḥ ? yā sā bhagavan lakṣaṇasaṃpattathāgatena bhāṣitā saivālakṣaṇasaṃpat| evamukte bhagavānāyuṣmantaṃ subhūtimetadavocat yāvatsubhūte lakṣaṇasaṃpat tāvanmṛṣā, yāvadalakṣaṇasaṃpat tāvanna mṛṣeti hi lakṣaṇālakṣaṇatastathāgato draṣṭavyaḥ||5||


At a high level this means do not judge things by appearances.

The Buddha want us to transcend appearance. This is discussed further in Section 20. It is also mentioned in Section 13 and Section 26.

The word mark translates the Chinese , Sanskrit lakṣaṇa. In discussing bodily marks the text is referring to the thirty two marks of excellence of the Buddha (Sanskrit: dvātrijśan mahā-purusa-laksanāni, Chinese: 三十二相). In fact, the Sanskrit term mahā-purusa literally means "great man." Wheel-turning kings also have the thirty two marks of excellence. The bodily signs include feet with flat soles, wheels on the soles of the feet, and so on. These bodily signs are wonderfully symbollic and make for nice artwork but they are not reasons to revere the Buddha. The elder Asita saw that the Buddha possessed the thirty two marks when he visited King Suddhhodana to see the Sidartha just after his birth. (Hsing Yun 2013, p24)

Vakkali was a monk who wanted to see the Buddha but could not because of chronic sickness. The Buddha menions not seeing him by his bodily form in the Vakkali Sutta,

"For a long time, Lord, I have wanted to come and set eyes on the Blessed One, but I had not the strength in this body to come and see the Blessed One."

"Enough, Vakkali! What is there to see in this vile body? He who sees Dhamma, Vakkali, sees me; he who sees me sees Dhamma. Truly seeing Dhamma, one sees me; seeing me one sees Dhamma."

("Vakkali Sutta: Vakkali" (SN 22.87), translated from the Pali by Maurice O'Connell Walshe. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013,

The Three Dharma Seals, also known as the Three Marks of Existence (Sanskrit: trilakṣaṇa, Chinese: 三法印) are (1) impermanence (Sanskrit: anitya, Chinese: 無常), (2) non-self (Sanskrit: anātman, Chinese: 無我), and (3) Nirvāṇa (Chinese: 涅盤) or that all phenomena (dharmas), except Nirvāṇa, are subject to suffering (Fo Guang Shan Online Dictionary). The lakṣaṇa part of the the Sanskrit word trilakṣaṇa is the same word as appears here in the text.

Coming back to the text, signs are deceptive and false because they are impermanent, do not have an independent self, and lead to suffering. So the problems with the bodily signs are (1) not only the Buddha has the thirty two marks of excellence, (2) these marks of excellence are not substantial in themselves because they arise from the Buddha's previous practice and the merit accumulated, and (3) the marks may lead to suffering.

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