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Diamond Sūtra Discussion

Unconditioned merits surpass all 無為福勝分

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Unconditioned merits surpass all 無為福勝


須菩提恆河所有如是恆河云何恆河沙?」 須菩提: 「甚多世尊恆河無數何況。」 「須菩提善男子善女人七寶滿恆河沙數三千大千世界布施?」須菩提:「甚多世尊!」

Yifa: “Subhuti, if there were as many Ganges Rivers as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River, what does your mind say? All of the grains of sand in these Ganges Rivers would be many, would they not?”

Subhuti replied, “Extremely many, World-Honored One. Just the Ganges Rivers would nevertheless be an incalculable many. How much more so their sand?”

“Subhuti, I will now truthfully tell you, if there are virtuous men and women who fill as many great trichiliocosms as there are grains of sand in these Ganges Rivers with the seven treasures, and use them to practice giving, they will obtain many rewards, will they not?”

Subhuti replied, “Extremely many, World-Honored One.”

Sanskrit: bhagavānāha- tatkiṃ manyase subhūte-yāvatyo gaṅgāyāṃ mahānadyāṃ vālukāstāvatya eva gaṅgānadyo bhaveyuḥ ? tāsu yā vālukāḥ, api nu tā bahvayo bhaveyuḥ ? subhūtirāha-tā eva tāvadbhagavan bahvayo gaṅgānadyo bhaveyuḥ, prāgeva yāstāsu gaṅgānadīṣu vālukāḥ| bhagavānāha- ārocayāmi te subhūte, prativedayāmi te| yāvatyastāsu gaṅgānadīṣu vālukā bhaveyustāvato lokadhātūn kaścideva strī vā puruṣo vā saptaratnaparipurṇaṃ kṛtvā tathāgatebhyo'rhadbhayaḥ samyaksaṃbuddhebhyo dānaṃ dadyāt, tat kiṃ manyase subhūte-api nu sā strī vā puruṣo vā tatonidānaṃ bahu puṇyaskandhaṃ prasunuyāt ? subhūtirāha-bahu bhagavan, bahu sugata strī vā puruṣo vā tatonidānaṃ puṇyaskandhaṃ prasunuyādaprameyamasaṃkhyeyam|


The Sanskrit name for the Ganges is gaṅgā (Chinese: 恆河). The Sanskrit word for great river is mahānada (Chinese: ). It has very fine, silt-like sand (Sanskrit: vālukā). So the amount of sand grains is an incredibly large number. Comparisons with the number of grains of sand in the Ganges River is given again in chapters 13, 15, 18, and 28.

The Ganges River is an ancient source of Indian culture and mythology. It runs across the foot of the Himalayas from west to east flowing into the Bay of Bengal. It is the third largest river in the world by discharge. Hindus believe that the Ganges is a sacred river. They bathe in the Ganges to purify themselves. The Ganges can purify because it descended from Heaven to Earth in Śiva's matter hair. (Mittal and Thursby 2006, p73)

One of the reasons that the analogy with the number of grains of sand in the Ganges is effective is because we have everyday experience with rivers and they are are vital to our lives. The Buddha lived in a number of places near the Ganges and the people who personally heard his discourses were very familiar with it.

Before his enlightenment the Buddha travelled to Rājagṛha. Rājagṛha, now known as Bihar, the ancient capital of Magadha, was split in two halves by the Ganges. The Buddha met King Bimbisāra (Chinese: 頻婆娑羅) in Rajagrha. Bimbisāra would later become an important supporter of the Buddha. (Buswell and Lopez 2014, entry on Bimbisāra) The Buddha gave his first discourse at Sarnath, also known as Deer Park, in the outskirts of the city of Varanasi, which is on the Ganges.

Rivers are used for a number of other analogies relating to rivers and the sea in Buddhism as well. In Chapter 9 the Buddha mentioned Srotaāpannas, literally meaning stream enterer because a Srotaāpanna will not regress on the path to liberation. The analogy crossing a body of water in a raft was used in Chapter 6. Nirvana is often referred to as the other shore (彼岸). Seas and oceans are mentioned as well. For example, saṃsāra is referred to as the sea of suffering (苦海). Great wisdom is referred to as like an ocean (智慧).



Yifa: The Buddha told Subhuti, “If virtuous men and women just receive and retain four lines of verse from this sutra, and explain them to others, then these rewards will surpass the aforementioned rewards.”

Sanskrit: bhagavānāha- yaśca khalu punaḥ subhūte strī vā puruṣo vā tāvato lokadhātūn saptaratnaparipūrṇaṃ kṛtvā tathāgatebhyo'rhadbhayaḥ samyaksaṃbuddhebhyo dānaṃ dadyāt, yaśca kulaputro vā kuladuhitā vā ito dharmaparyāyādantaśaścatuṣpādikāmapi gāthāmudgṛhya parebhyo deśayet saṃprakāśayet, ayameva tatonidānaṃ bahutaraṃ puṇyaskandhaṃ prasunuyādaprameyamasaṃkhyeyam||11||


In his commentary on the Diamond Sūtra, Hsing Yun writes

The Diamond Sūtra teaches us that by giving without notions, we can be granted limitless merit. It also states that the gift of Dharma is superior to material gifts. It is easy to give material things once one's needs have been met, but making it possible for living beings to develop their own wisdom from within is not something that can be done by relying upon money and material goods alone.
(Hsing Yun 2012, p 108)

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